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At least 56 killed and 194 injured in suicide attack on Pakistani Shiite mosque

At least 56 people were killed and 194 injured in a suicide bombing on Friday Shia mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar, the deadliest attack in the country since 2018.

The explosion — claimed by the Islamic State group — ripped through the city’s Kocha Risaldar area just before Friday prayers were due to begin, shattering the interior and flooding the streets with shattered glass.

It came on the first day of a cricket test match in Rawalpindi – about 190 kilometers (120 miles) to the east – between Pakistan and Australia, who have not visited the country for nearly a quarter of a century due to security concerns.

Muhammad Asim Khan, a spokesman for Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, said the death toll had risen to 56, the deadliest since an explosion in July 2018 – according to the local branch of the Islamic State group – that killed 149 people during an election rally.

He said 50 of the injured were in critical condition.

Muhammad Ali Saif, a spokesman for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s provincial government, told AFP that the blast was a “suicide bomb” and numerous witnesses told about the explosion.

Ali Asghar said he saw a man enter the mosque for Friday prayers and opened fire with a gun, picking out the worshipers “one by one”.

He then “blew himself up,” Asghar said.

“I saw a man shooting at two police officers before entering the mosque. Seconds later, I heard a big bang,” said another witness, Zahid Khan.

The head of Peshawar’s bomb disposal unit, Rab Nawaz Khan, told AFP that the attacker detonated five to eight kilograms (two to four pounds) of “highly explosive TNT” loaded with ball bearings to amplify the damage.

An AFP reporter saw body parts scattered at the blast site, where desperate relatives were stopped by police.

– Police officers shot –

Peshawar police chief Muhammad Ijaz Khan told AFP that two attackers were involved.

He said two police officers were shot dead at the entrance to the mosque.

“One police officer died at the scene, while the other was seriously injured,” he said.

The spokesman for Lady Reading Hospital said an emergency had been declared in hospitals in the area as the injured were brought in.

The Islamic State group said on its Amaq propaganda site that one of its fighters “had managed to attack a Shia mosque in Peshawar”.

Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted that he “personally supervised the operations” and that the government “had all the information about the origins of where the terrorists came from”, adding that they “went after them with full force”.

In Brussels, a spokesman for the European Union’s head of foreign policy, Josep Borrell, called the attack a “heinous crime” and pledged continued support to Pakistan in its counter-terrorism efforts.

Peshawar – just 50 kilometers from the porous border with Afghanistan – was a frequent target of militants in early 2010, but security has improved greatly in recent years.

Pakistan’s Sunni majority has recently fought a resurgence of its domestic Taliban branch, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

A month-long ceasefire last year failed and fears are that the TTP, which historically targeted Shia Muslims, has been encouraged by the success of the Afghan Taliban.

Shias in the region have also been targeted by the regional iteration of the Islamic State group, Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K).

At least 31 people were killed in a suicide attack on a busy market in Peshawar in 2018.

At least 88 people died and hundreds were injured a year earlier when a suicide bomber blew himself up amid crowds of devotees at a respected Sufi shrine in southern Sindh province.

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