A deadly blast in a mosque in Peshawar on Monday, the latest attack on the city in northwest Pakistan, killed at least 61 people and left about 157 injured, according to Peshawar Police Chief Mohammad Aijaz Khan.
Rescue operations are now underway in the mosque, which is situated inside a police compound and is mostly attended by law enforcement officials.
In a statement to CNN, Khan, the Peshawar police chief, earlier said the incident inside the Police Lines Mosque was “probably a suicide attack,” echoing Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
“The brutal killing of Muslims prostrating before Allah is against the teachings of the Quran,” Sharif said in a statement, adding that “targeting the House of Allah is proof that the attackers have nothing to do with Islam.”
“Terrorists want to create fear by targeting those who perform the duty of defending Pakistan,” the prime minister continued.
“Those who fight against Pakistan will be erased from the page.”
A “comprehensive strategy” is in the works in order to restore law and order in the northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where Peshawar is located, Sharif also said.
Conflicting accounts have emerged about who is behind the attack. A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), Muhammad Khorasani, has denied any involvement in the attack.
“Regarding the Peshawar incident, we consider it necessary to clarify that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has nothing to do with this incident. According to our laws and general constitution, any action in mosques, madrasas, funerals grounds and other sacred places is an offence,” Khorasani said in a statement late Monday.
He did not comment on earlier statements by TTP officials Sarbakaf Mohmand and Omar Mukaram Khurasani, who had claimed the blast was “revenge” for the death of TTP militant Khalid Khorasani last year.
The TTP is a US-designated foreign terrorist organization operating in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Pakistan authorities say an investigation is underway, and have not confirmed either claim.
Prime Minister Sharif traveled to Peshawar following the deadly blast and visited Lady Reading Hospital to meet those injured, his office said.
“Just returned from Peshawar. 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,” Sharif posted on Twitter.
“My message to the perpetrators of today’s despicable incident is that you can’t underestimate the resolve of our people,” he added.
Former leader Pakistani Imran Khan also condemned the blast, saying in a tweet that “it is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering & properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism.”
Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf holds the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkwa.
The city of Peshawar – which is located at the edge of Pakistan’s tribal districts that border Afghanistan – has frequently been the site of attacks by the TTP and other militant groups.
The Islamic State (ISIS) said they were responsible for an attack on a Shia mosque in Peshawar in March 2022. That blast killed at least 61 people and injured another 196.
TTP’s central spokesman Muhammad Khurasani is yet to comment on Monday’s attack.