A suicide bomber struck a crowded mosque inside a police compound in Pakistan on Monday, killing at least 59 people and wounding more than 170 others.
Witnesses say the attacker walked to the front row of the mosque before detonating a suicide vest, with the force of the blast causing the roof of the building to collapse.
“The terrorist was standing in the first row,” defence minister Khawaja Asif said.
Many of the victims were police officers, with the mosque located inside a highly fortified compound that includes a counterterror department and headquarters.
Sarbakaf Mohmand, a commander for the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter. Pakistan, which is mostly Sunni Muslim, has seen a surge in militant attacks since November, when the Pakistani Taliban ended its cease-fire with government forces.
Local Taliban known as Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) Pakistan, an umbrella group of Sunni and sectarian militant groups, denied responsibility.
“Tehreek-e-Taliban has nothing to do with this attack,” the TTP said in a statement.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif described the incident as a suicide attack and called on members of his Pakistan Muslim League party living in Peshawar to donate blood. “Terrorists want to create fear by targeting those who perform the duty of defending Pakistan,” he said in a statement.
"It was a suicide bombing," the Peshawar police chief, Ijaz Khan, said of the blast, which took place at 1.40pm local time.
A spokesperson for Lady Reading Hospital of Peshawar, Mohammad Asim, said it was taking in the majority of the victims and that the area has been cordoned off – with only ambulances allowed to enter.
"As the prayer leader said 'Allah is the greatest', there was a big bang," Mushtaq Khan, a policeman with a head wound, told reporters from his hospital bed.
"We couldn't figure out what happened as the bang was deafening. It threw me out of the veranda. The walls and roof fell on me. Thanks to God, he saved me."
Mr Sharif said: "The sheer scale of the human tragedy is unimaginable... This is no less than an attack on Pakistan. The nation is overwhelmed by a deep sense of grief. I have no doubt terrorism is our foremost national security challenge."
Senior police and government officials attended the funerals of 30 police officers and arrangements to bury the rest were being made. Coffins were wrapped in the Pakistani flag their bodies were later handed over to relatives for burials.
A photograph published in local media showed people gathered around the collapsed wall of the mosque.
Another video shared on Twitter by Khurram Iqbal, a reporter with local TV channel Hum News, showed chaotic scenes outside the mosque with scores of people surrounding the area as a bulldozer entered a narrow lane.
Reacting to the reports, Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan expressed his condolences for the victims and called for improvements to the country’s intelligence gathering to prevent such attacks.
“Strongly condemn the terrorist suicide attack in Police Lines mosque Peshawar during prayers,” the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief wrote on social media. “My prayers and condolences go to victims families.”
“It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering and properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism.”
Peshawar is the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the Pakistani Taliban have a strong presence, and the city has been the scene of frequent militant attacks.
A recent report by the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS) stated that in 2022 alone, the south Asian nation witnessed 376 terror attacks, in which 533 people were killed.
Last year, a suicide blast inside a Shia mosque in Peshawar’s Kocha Risaldar area killed 63 people.
Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report
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