PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) - A suicide bomber struck Monday inside a mosque in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, killing at least 20 people and wounding as many as 96 worshippers, officials said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, said Saddique Khan, a senior police official in Peshawar who gave the latest casualty tolls, but the Pakistani Taliban have been blamed in similar suicide attacks in the past.
The bomber detonated his suicide vest as some 150 worshipers - including many policemen from nearby police offices - were praying inside. The impact of the explosion collapsed the roof of the mosque, which caved in and injured many, according to Zafar Khan, a local police officer.
A survivor, 38-year-old police officer Meena Gul, said he was inside the mosque when the bomb went off. He said he doesn't know how he survived unhurt. He could hear cries and screams after the bomb exploded, Gul said.
Rescuers scrambled trying to remove mounds of debris from the mosque grounds and get to worshippers still trapped under the rubble, police said. Khan said said several of the wounded were listed in critical condition at a hospital and there were fears the death toll would rise.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif in a statement condemned the bombing, and ordered authorities to ensure the best possible medical treatment to the victims. He also vowed "stern action" against those who were behind the attack.
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan also condemned the bombing, calling it a "terrorist suicide attack" in a Twitter posting. "My prayers & condolences go to victims families," said the ex-premier. "It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering & properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism."
Peshawar is the capital of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan and has been the scene of frequent militant attacks.
The Pakistani Taliban, are known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, and are separate group but also a close ally of the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in neighboring Afghanistan in August 2021 as U.S. and NATO troops were in the final stages of their pullout from the country after 20 years of war.
The TTP has waged an insurgency in Pakistan over the past 15 years, fighting for stricter enforcement of Islamic laws in the country, the release of their members who are in government custody and a reduction of the Pakistani military presence in the country's former tribal regions.
Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.