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Death toll from Pakistan mosque bombing crosses 90 as rescue op. continues

According to officials, at least 90 have been killed and more than 170 people wounded in the suicide bombing targeting a mosque in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar. (Photo by AP)

The death toll from Monday’s suicide bombing that ripped through a mosque situated close to police headquarters in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar has crossed 90, making it one of the deadliest attacks in the country.

According to officials, at least 170 people were wounded in the high-intensity explosion and many others were still stuck under the debris of the mosque in Peshawar, the capital of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan.

Up to 400 people were praying at the time of the explosion. Many of the casualties were police officers who had gathered in the mosque for afternoon prayers.

According to the police, the mosque is located in the vicinity of a police housing block in a high-security zone of the city, and the attacker appeared to have passed through several barricades manned by security forces.

Bilal Faizi, the chief rescue official, was quoted as saying that rescue teams were still working to pull out people trapped under the rubble. The bombing caused the roof of the mosque to collapse, making it difficult for rescuers to recover the bodies. 

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack in Peshawar, although shortly after the explosion a commander of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack in a post on Twitter.

Hours later, in a separate statement, TTP spokesperson Mohammad Khurasani distanced the group from the bombing, saying it was not its policy to target mosques, seminaries and religious places. He, however, refused to comment on the TTP commander's statement. 

Ghulam Ali, the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said an investigation was underway to determine “how the terrorist entered the mosque”.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif strongly condemned the attack, reiterating the national resolve and unity to eliminate terrorism from the country.

In a statement, he said the killing of Muslims while they worshipped was in violation of Islamic teachings and that the attack on a mosque showed the perpetrators had nothing to do with Islam.

The prime minister traveled to Peshawar on an emergency visit late on Monday, where he met those injured in the deadly attack. 

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres also condemned the attack, with his spokeswoman saying that it was "particularly abhorrent that such an attack occurred at a place of worship".

The TTP was founded in 2007 and is separate from but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban and seeks to enforce strict Islamic laws in the country and has a long-running feud with the Pakistani military. 

In the past 15 years, the TTP militants have been involved in multiple terrorist attacks across the country, including targeted bombings and killings of members of minority communities and security officials.

On December 16, 2014, the group's attack on Peshawar’s Army School killed more than 150 people, mostly children, which was one of the deadliest massacres in the South Asian country's history.

The Pakistani government’s truce with TTP ended in June. According to data compiled by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based research organization, at least 65 attacks took place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by the end of October, killing at least 98 people.

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