The death toll in a suicide bombing at a mosque in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar has risen to 100, a medical official has said, as the South Asian country faces a growing security challenge from armed groups.
“So far, 100 bodies have been brought to Lady Reading Hospital,” spokesman for the city’s largest medical facility, Mohammad Asim, said in a statement on Tuesday.
The vast majority of those killed in Monday’s bombing were police officers, he said.
Kashif Aftab Abbasi, chief 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 bombardment and rescuers had to remove mounds of debris to recover many bodies, authorities said.
Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder, reporting from Peshawar, said the rescue operation had largely shifted to recovery.
“There was a dismissal ceremony for these police officers who lost their lives, as well as funerals across the province, because these police officers came from several districts, so there is mourning throughout the province,” said- he declared.
The attack is the deadliest in Peshawar for a decade and came amid an outbreak of violence against police.
Questions are being asked about how an attacker wearing a suicide vest gained access to the heavily fortified area, which includes provincial police headquarters and a counter-terrorism department.
The bombing follows “credible intelligence reports” on January 21 that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) planned a wave of attacks in Peshawar and the wider province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, reports Hyder.
Shortly after the blast, Omar Mukaram Khorasani – leader of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group from the TTP and a member of the TTP’s leadership council – said his group carried out the attack in retaliation for the killing of the last year of Jamaat-ul- Former Ahrar leader Omar Khalid Khorasani in Afghanistan, according to the Long War Journal and the South Asia Media Research Institute.
Khorasani “took responsibility, saying it was a revenge attack for the murder of his brother in Afghanistan, which he blamed on Pakistani security forces,” Hyder said. “This is a splinter group, and they joined the mainstream TTP in 2020, so definitely a group within the TTP.”
Nonetheless, TTP spokesman Mohammad Khorasani distanced himself from the attack, saying his policy was not to target mosques, seminaries and other religious sites. He added that those who take part in such acts could face punitive measures from the TTP, but he did not respond to Khorasani’s claims.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Ghulam Ali said an investigation was underway to determine “how the terrorist entered the mosque” in the provincial capital.
“Yes, it was a security breach,” he said.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif vowed to take “tough action” against the perpetrators of the attack as he visited a hospital in Peshawar on Monday.
“The scale of the human tragedy is unimaginable. This is nothing 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 an upsurge 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 branch of the military spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence. Security officials said on Monday the shooter in that attack was found and killed in a shootout in northwest Pakistan near the Afghan border.
The TTP is a separate group from the Afghan Taliban, but they are close allies.
The TTP led 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 that killed 154 people, mostly children.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the latest bombing “particularly heinous” because it targeted a place of worship, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The attack came as cash-strapped Pakistan continues to face a severe economic crisis. It requested a $1.1 billion payout from the International Monetary Fund – as part of its $6 billion bailout – to avoid default. However, talks with the IMF have stalled in recent months.
Al Jazeera’s Abid Hussain contributed reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan.