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Rescue operation continues after Pakistan blast that killed 92 Crime News

Most of those killed in suicide bombing at a Peshawar mosque were police, 52 injured people remain in hospital.

A rescue and recovery operation was continuing in Pakistan after a suicide bombing at a mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar killed at least 92 people, most of them police officials.

Muhammad Asim, a spokesperson for the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that at least 170 people were also injured in the blast a day earlier. The vast majority of those killed were police officers. Fifty-two wounded people remained in hospital, with six in a critical condition, he said.

Bilal Faizi, the chief rescue official, said rescue teams were still working at the site where more people could still be trapped. The suicide bombing caused the roof of the mosque to collapse, 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 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.

Meanwhile, questions have grown over how the attacker was able to access the heavily fortified area, which includes the headquarters of the provincial police force and a counterterrorism department, while wearing a suicide vest.

That 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.

Authorities have not determined who was behind the bombing, although shortly after the explosion Sarbakaf Mohmand, a TTP commander, claimed responsibility for the attack in a post on Twitter.

However, hours later, TTP spokesperson Mohammad Khurasani distanced the group from the bombing, saying it was not its policy to target mosques, seminaries and religious places. He added that those taking part in such acts could face punitive action under TTP’s policy, but did not address why a TTP commander had claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Ghulam Ali, the provincial governor in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said an investigation was under way to determine “how the terrorist entered the mosque”.

“Yes, it was a security lapse,” he added.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif visited a hospital in Peshawar on Monday and promised to take “stern action” against those behind the attack.

“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.

Security officials inspect the site of a mosque in Peshawar
Security officials inspect the site of a mosque blast inside police headquarters in Peshawar [Maaz Ali/AFP]

In early January, the TTP claimed one of its members shot and killed two intelligence officers, including the director of the counterterrorism wing of the country’s military-based spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence. Security officials said on Monday the gunman in that attack was traced and killed in a shootout in the northwest of the country, near the Afghan border.

While a separate group, the TTP is a close ally of the Afghan Taliban.

The TTP has waged a 15-year armed 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 abhorrent” for targeting a place of worship, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.

The attack comes as cash-strapped Pakistan continues to face a severe economic crisis. It has sought a crucial installment 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.

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