Death Toll Rises To 63 in Deadly Pakistan IS Mosque Attack

Death Toll Rises To 63 in Deadly Pakistan IS Mosque Attack
People attend the funeral prayers for the victims of Friday's suicide bombing in Peshawar, Pakistan, Saturday, March 5, 2022. The Islamic State says a lone Afghan suicide bomber struck inside a Shiite Muslim mosque in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar during Friday prayers, killing dozens worshippers and wounding more than 190 people. (AP Photo/Muhammas Sajjad)

PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Officials vowed on Saturday to hunt down and arrest the mastermind behind a deadly attack on a mosque in Pakistan the day before that was claimed by an Islamic State affiliate. The attack killed 63 people and injured nearly 200.

IS said in a statement that the sole suicide bomber was from neighboring Afghanistan. He shot two police officers guarding a Shia Muslim mosque northwest of Peshawar before going inside and detonating his device, he said. The attack took place as worshipers knelt during Friday prayers. The IS affiliate, known as IS in Khorasan Province, is based in eastern Afghanistan.

The Taliban rulers in Afghanistan, who have been battling ISIS, condemned the attack. ISIS has proven to be the Taliban's biggest security threat since coming to power last August.

“We condemn the bombing of a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan. There is no justification for attacking civilians and worshipers," tweeted Taliban Deputy Minister of Culture and Information Zabihullah Mujahid. He declined to comment on ISIS claims that the suicide bombers were Afghans.

Read Also: Taliban Kill 20 In Pakistan Mosque Attack

The death toll is likely to continue to rise, said Asim Khan, a spokesman for Peshawar's Lady Reading Hospital. At least four of the 38 patients still hospitalized are in critical condition, he said. Until Friday night and Saturday morning, Pakistanis were burying their bodies under tight security, deploying sniffer dogs. Police carried out a body search of the mourners who were then searched a second time by security personnel provided by Pakistan's Shia community.

Hundreds of mourners wept and beat their chests attended funeral prayers for 13 victims Friday night and 11 others on Saturday at Peshawar's Kohati Gate. The coffins were covered with shrouds, some with the sayings of the Koran. They lined up in the clearing, visible with naked light bulbs.

"These are the people and worshipers inside the mosque, and they were brutally killed while they were busy praying to God," Hayat Khan told The Associated Press late Friday as he buried a relative.

One of the police officers shot outside the Kucha Risaldar mosque died instantly and a second died later of his injuries, police officials said.

Pakistan's Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said in a statement that three investigative teams were formed to study forensic evidence and closed-circuit TV footage to track down the organizers of the attack.

In CCTV footage seen by The Associated Press, the lone attacker hid his bomb under a large black scarf. The footage shows the bomber moving swiftly down the narrow road leading to the mosque's entrance. He opened fire on the police guarding the mosque before going inside.

Within seconds, there was a huge explosion and the camera lens was covered in dust and debris. The crudely crafted device is packed with ball bearings, a lethal method of making a bomb to inflict maximum carnage as it sprays lethal projectiles over a large area. Ball bearings account for the high death toll, said Moazzam Jah Ansari, the top police official for Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province, of which Peshawar is the capital.

In the immediate aftermath of the bombings, Pakistan's Shia minority criticized the government for lax security arrangements that demanded greater attention to their safety.

Friday's attack in the crowded old city of Peshawar was Pakistan's worst in years. The country has experienced new militant attacks after several years of relative calm following military operations against militant hideouts on the border with Afghanistan.

The attacks have been mostly carried out by the Pakistani Taliban since last August when the Afghan Taliban came to power and America ended its 20-year involvement in Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban are not connected to the new Afghan rulers. However, they are hiding in Afghanistan and despite repeated requests from Pakistan to turn them over, none have been found and driven out.

The Islamic State affiliate, often referred to as IS-K, is an enemy of the Afghan Taliban and has carried out successive operations against them since coming to power last year. Pakistani security officials insist that ISIS has little presence in Pakistan, but in their statement claiming responsibility for mosque attacks, ISIS pledged to carry out more attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"Islamic State fighters continuously target Shiites living in Pakistan and Afghanistan despite strict security measures adopted by the Taliban militia and Pakistani police to secure Shia shrines and centers," said an IS statement posted on the Amaq News Agency website.

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