A powerful bomb blast ripped through an Islamic seminary on the outskirts of the northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar on Tuesday morning, killing at least eight students and wounding 136 others, police and a hospital spokesman said.
The bombing happened as a prominent religious scholar was delivering a lecture about the teachings of Islam at the main hall of the Jamia Zubairia madrasa, said police officer Waqar Azim. He said initial investigations suggest the bomb went off minutes after someone left a bag at the madrasa.
TV footage showed damaged main hall of the seminary, where the bombing took place.
Several of the wounded students were in critical condition, and hospital authorities feared the death toll could climb further. Authorities said some seminary teachers and employees were also wounded in the bombing.
Shortly after the attack, residents rushed to the seminary to check up on their sons or relatives who were studying there. Many relatives were gathering at the city’s main Lady Reading Hospital, where the dead and wounded students were brought by police in ambulances and other vehicles.
Some Afghan students studying at the seminary were also among the wounded, officials said.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the bombing and asked authorities to ensure the provision of best possible medical aid to the victims.
From his hospital bed, a wounded student, Mohammad Saqib, 24, said religious scholar Rahimullah Haqqani was explaining verses from the Quran when suddenly they heard a deafening sound and then cries and saw bloodstained students crying for help.
“Someone helped me and put me in an ambulance and I was brought to hospital,” he said.
Mr Saqib had his both arms strapped but he was listed to be in a stable condition.
Another witness, Saeed Ullah, 24, said up to 500 students were present at the seminary’s main hall at the time of explosion. He said teachers were also among those who were wounded in the bombing.
A video filmed by a student at the scene showed the Islamic scholar Haqqani delivering a lecture when the bomb exploded. It was unclear whether the teacher was among the wounded persons.
The attack comes days after Pakistani intelligence alerted that militants could target public places and important buildings, including seminaries and mosques across Pakistan, including Peshawar.
No one immediately claimed the attack in Peshawar, which is the provincial capital of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan. The province has been the scene of such militant attacks in recent years, but sectarian violence has also killed or wounded people at mosques or seminaries across Pakistan.
Unicef condemned the attack, saying schools should never be a target of attacks.
“Education is the fundamental right of every girl and boy, everywhere," said Unicef’s Pakistan Representative Aida Girma.
"Schools must never be targeted. They must remain safe learning environments at all times to protect the growth and healthy development of children, adolescents and young people.”
The latest attack comes two days after a bombing in the south-west city of Quetta killed three people. The Pakistani Taliban have been targeting public places, schools, mosques and the military across the country since 2001, when the country joined the US-led war on terror following the September 11 attacks in the United States.
Since then, the insurgents have declared war on the government of Pakistan and have carried out several attacks, including a brutal assault on an army-run school in the city of Peshawar in 2014 that killed 140 children and several teachers.