A suicide bomber struck inside a Shiite Muslim mosque in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar during Friday prayers, killing at least 56 worshippers and wounding 194 people, hospital officials said.
No militant group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Both the Islamic State group and the Pakistani Taliban — a militant group separate from the Taliban in Afghanistan — have carried out similar attacks in the past in the area, located near the border with neighboring Afghanistan.
According to the spokesman at Peshawar's Lady Reading Hospital, Asim Khan, many of the wounded were in critical condition. Scores of victims were peppered with shrapnel, several had limbs amputated and others were injured by flying debris.
Peshawar Police Chief Muhammed Ejaz Khan said the violence started when an armed attacker opened fire on police outside the mosque in Peshawar’s old city. One policeman was killed in the gunfight, and another police officer was wounded. The attacker then ran inside the mosque and detonated his suicide vest.
Local police official Waheed Khan said the explosion occurred as worshippers had gathered in the Kucha Risaldar Mosque for Friday prayers. There are fears the death toll will rise further, he added.
Ambulances rushed through congested narrow streets carrying the wounded to Lady Reading Hospital, where doctors worked feverishly.
Shayan Haider, a witness, had been preparing to enter the mosque when a powerful explosion threw him to the ground. “I opened my eyes and there was dust and bodies everywhere,” he said.
At the Lady Reading Hospital Emergency department, there was chaos as doctors struggled to move the many wounded into operating theaters. Hundreds of relatives gathered outside the emergency department, many of them wailing and beating their chests, pleading for information about their loved ones.