The Islamic State in Khorasan Province (Isis-K) said a lone suicide bomber from neighbouring Afghanistan shot two police officers guarding the mosque before entering and detonating the device.
The attack took place as Shia worshipers, a minority community in Pakistan, knelt for Friday prayers at the Kucha Risaldar mosque. The explosion has also left nearly 200 injured, with scores of the victims having their limbs amputated, while others were injured by flying debris.
The bomber had strapped a powerful device, packed with 5kg of explosives, to his body, said Moazzam Jah Ansari, the top police official for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The bomb was reportedly hidden beneath a large black shawl that covered much of the attacker’s body.
The device was packed with ball bearings, a method used to construct a bomb that inflicts maximum carnage, Mr Ansari said, adding this had caused the high death toll.
According to authorities, one of the police officers who was shot outside the mosque died immediately, while the other succumbed to his wounds later.
Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan strongly condemned the “cowardly terrorist attack” and directed authorities to provide urgent care to the wounded.
“My deepest condolences go to the victims’ families and prayers for the recovery of the injured. I have asked CM KP to personally visit the families and look after their needs,” he said in a tweet.
My deepest condolences go to the victims' families & prayers for the recovery of the injured. I have asked CM KP to personally visit the families & look after their needs.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) March 4, 2022
Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban, who have been fighting Isis-K in their country, condemned the attack. “We condemn the bombing of a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan. There is no justification for attacking civilians and worshipers,” the Taliban’s deputy minister for culture and information Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted.
The toll is likely to rise as several patients are still in a critical condition at Peshawar’s Lady Reading hospital.
Hundreds of mourners gathered late on Friday and later on Saturday morning to lay their relatives to rest amid a heavy security deployment.
“These were human beings and worshipers inside the mosque, and they were brutally killed at a time when they were busy praying to god,” Hayat Khan, a family member of one of the victims, told the Associated Press, as he buried his kin.
Pakistan has witnessed a spate of targeted violence, with Friday’s attack in a congested area of the old Peshawar city, being one of the worst in years.
It comes at a time when the Australian cricket team are touring Pakistan for the first time in more than two decades. They are staying in Islamabad, nearly 140km away from Peshawar.