The death toll from a suicide bombing at a mosque in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar has risen to 100, a medical official says, as the South Asian country faces a mounting security challenge from armed groups.
“So far, 100 bodies have been brought to Lady Reading Hospital,” the spokesman for the largest medical facility in the city, Mohammad Asim, said in a statement on Tuesday.
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The vast majority of those killed in Monday’s bombing were police officers, he said.
Kashif Aftab Abbasi, senior superintendent of police operations in Peshawar, told Al Jazeera that more than 225 people were injured in the blast.
The roof of the mosque, which was located inside a government security compound, collapsed in the bombing, and rescuers had to remove mounds of debris to recover many of the bodies, authorities said.
Reporting from Peshawar, Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder said the rescue operation had largely shifted to recovery.
“There has been a ceremonial send-off to those policemen who lost their lives, also funerals taking place across the province, because these policemen came from several districts, so there is mourning across the province,” he said.
KP Inspector General Mauzzam Jah Ansari during a media briefing that the caretaker chief minister of the province Azam Khan had ordered a joint investigation team (JIT) to immediately investigate the deadly attack, local media Dawn reported.
The attack is the deadliest in Peshawar in a decade and was carried out during a surge in violence against the police.
Questions are being asked over how an attacker wearing a suicide vest was able to access the heavily fortified area, which includes the headquarters of the provincial police force and a counterterrorism department.
The bombing followed “credible intelligence reports” on January 21 that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) planned a wave of attacks in Peshawar and the wider Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Hyder reported.
Shortly after the explosion, Omar Mukaram Khorasani – head of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a TTP splinter group and a member of the TTP’s leadership council – said his group committed the attack in retaliation for the killing last year of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar’s former leader Omar Khalid Khorasani in Afghanistan, according to the Long War Journal and the South Asia Media Research Institute.
Khorasani “took responsibility, saying this was a revenge attack for the killing of his brother in Afghanistan, which he blamed on the Pakistani security forces”, Hyder said. “This is a splinter group, and they joined the mainstream TTP back in 2020, so definitely a group within the TTP.”
Nevertheless, TTP spokesman Mohammad Khorasani distanced the group from the bombing, saying it was not its policy to target mosques, seminaries and other religious sites. He added that those taking part in such acts could face punitive action by the TTP, but he did not address Khorasani’s claims.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Ghulam Ali said an investigation was under way to determine “how the terrorist entered the mosque” in the provincial capital.
“Yes, it was a security lapse,” he said.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif promised to take “stern action” against those behind the attack as he visited a hospital in Peshawar on Monday.
“The sheer scale of the human tragedy is unimaginable. This is no less than an attack on Pakistan,” he tweeted. He expressed his condolences to the families of the victims, saying their pain “cannot be described in words”.
Pakistan has seen a surge in attacks since November when the TTP ended a ceasefire with the government.
In early January, the TTP said one of its members shot and killed two intelligence officers, including the director of the counterterrorism wing of the military’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence. Security officials said on Monday that the gunman in that attack was traced and killed in a shootout in northwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border.
The TTP is a separate group from the Afghan Taliban, but they are close allies.
The TTP has waged a 15-year uprising against the Pakistani government, which included a 2014 attack by a faction of the group on an army-run school in Peshawar, which killed 154 people, mostly children.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the latest bombing “particularly abhorrent” for targeting a place of worship, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The attack occurred as cash-strapped Pakistan continues to face a severe economic crisis. It has sought an instalment of $1.1bn from the International Monetary Fund – part of its $6bn bailout package – to avoid default. However, talks with the IMF have stalled in recent months.
Al Jazeera’s Abid Hussain contributed reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan.