Shafiullah Khan, the deputy commissioner of the city of Peshawar, where the bombing took place Monday, said 177 other people, most of them police officers, had been injured and that 57 of them were still hospitalized, some in critical condition.
Officials said the bomber was standing in the first row of the crowded mosque when he set off his explosive vest during afternoon prayer, causing the roof to cave in. The death toll may rise as bodies continue to be recovered from the rubble of the mosque, which is inside a walled compound housing the police headquarters.
About 300 worshippers were in the mosque at the time of the blast, said Ijaz Khan, the Peshawar police chief.
“A portion of the building collapsed, and some of the people are alive but stranded there,” he said Monday. “Our teams are engaged in cutting the steel to recover them.”
It was unclear how the bomber was able to get past security at the compound, as well as in a larger high-security zone that surrounds it. Khan said officials had confirmed that the bomber was not a member of the police force.
Sarbakaf Mohmand, a commander of the Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter. But spokesperson Mohammad Khurasani later denied the group was involved.
“As per our principles, carrying out attacks in mosques, seminaries and other holy places cannot be defended and the perpetrators are liable to be punished,” he said in a statement. He did not address the TTP commander’s earlier claim of responsibility.
The Pakistani Taliban, who are separate from but closely allied with the Afghan Taliban, have waged an insurgency in Pakistan for the past 15 years. They are especially active in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province bordering Afghanistan where Peshawar is the capital.
Militant attacks in Pakistan, particularly on security forces and police, have increased since November, when the Pakistani Taliban ended a monthslong cease-fire with the government.
The bombing at the mosque in Peshawar has been widely condemned both in Pakistan and internationally.
“The sheer scale of the human tragedy is unimaginable,” Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Twitter. “This is no less than an attack on Pakistan.”