At least 56 people were killed and 194 wounded in a bomb blast at a mosque in Pakistan's north-western city of Peshawar on Friday, hospital officials said.
The blast took place in the Kocha Risaldar area of the city, which has a number of markets and is usually crowded around the time of Friday prayers, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported.
At least 56 people killed in suicide attack on mosque in Pakistan
Many of the wounded were in critical condition, Asim Khan, spokesman of the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, said. Many victims were peppered with shrapnel, several had limbs amputated and others were injured by flying debris.
Peshawar police chief Muhammed Ejaz Khan said the attack started with two men opening fire on police outside the mosque. One attacker and a policeman were killed in the gunfight, and another police official was wounded. The remaining attacker then ran inside the mosque and detonated a bomb.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast but both ISIS and the Pakistani Taliban have carried out similar attacks in the region, located near the border with Afghanistan.
Worshippers at the mosque in Peshawar had gathered for Friday prayers, when congregations are usually the largest.
"Panic spread among the worshippers when the firing started. I ran to save my life," one man, who did not give his name, told Reuters at the hospital where was being treated for injuries.
"Suddenly a man came in and started firing... He shot many people (and) then closed his eyes and blew himself up. After that I have no idea what happened," he said.
Shayan Haider said he had been preparing to enter the mosque when a powerful explosion threw him to the street.
“I opened my eyes and there was dust and bodies everywhere,” he told Associated Press.
The prayer leader, Allama Irshad Hussein Khalil, a prominent young Shiite leader, was reported to be among the dead
Sher Ali, a retired army officer who was wounded by flying debris inside the mosque, pleaded for better government protection of the country’s minority Shiite Muslims.
“What is our sin? What have we done? Aren’t we citizens of this country?” he said, speaking to the Associated Press at the Lady Reading Hospital.
Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the bombing.
Pakistan has experienced a broad increase of violence in recent months. Dozens of military personnel have been killed in scores of attacks on army outposts along the Afghan border.
Many of the attacks have been claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, who analysts say have been emboldened by the Afghan Taliban’s return to power last August.
Pakistan has urged Afghanistan’s new rulers to hand over Pakistani Taliban insurgents who have been staging their attacks from Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has yet to hand over any Pakistani insurgents but says its territory will not be used to stage attacks against anyone.