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PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Armed attackers dressed as security forces opened fire inside a Shiite place of worship in northwest Pakistan Friday, killing at least 19 people and wounding others, officials said.
Pakistan's Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place at an Islamic center in Peshawar at the end of Friday prayers.
"We carried out the attack ... and members of the Shiite community were our target," Taliban spokesman Mohammad Khurasani said.
Radical Sunni Islamist groups often target mosques and religious centers frequented by minority Shiites, whom they see as infidels.
"The terrorists first hurled hand grenades and opened fire at the worshippers inside,” senior police officer Amjad Khan told NBC News. “Three explosions were heard inside the building.”
Khan said police had exchanged fire with the attackers.
Eyewitness Waqar Hussain said the worshippers had just finished Friday prayers when five to six armed men wearing paramilitary uniforms entered the building and started to fire indiscriminately.
"Nobody knew what was going on as the armed men were wearing the uniform of security forces," he added.
Victims were taken to the Hayatabad Medical Complex. "The death toll has reached 19 and I am afraid it may increase," said Mumtaz Khan, chief executive of the hospital.
The Taliban issued a picture of four men it said were behind the attack, identifying one of them as Khaleefa Omar Mansoor, who was part of the group that organized a Dec. 16 attack on a school in Peshawar that killed 153 people, most of them schoolchildren.
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