A powerful bomb was detonated inside a Shiite mosque in Pakistan during Friday prayers, killing at least 56 worshippers and wounding nearly 200 others, many of them critically, hospital officials said.
The deadly explosion, reportedly carried out by a suicide bomber, occurred as worshippers had gathered at the mosque in the country’s northwestern city of Peshawar. No terrorist group has immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
“First I heard five to six gunshots and then I saw the suicide bomber enter the mosque and a huge explosion occurred,” a witness who identified himself as Naeem told Al Jazeera. “The doors of my house opened with a bang and I fell down on the ground. When I entered the mosque, there was smoke and dust and people were lying in blood.”
Peshawar Police Chief Muhammed Ejaz Khan said the violence started when an armed attacker opened fire on police outside the mosque. One police officer was killed in the gunfight, and another officer was wounded, the chief said. Authorities said they fear the death toll may rise.
Both the ISIS terrorist group and the Pakistani Taliban—a terrorist group separate from the Taliban in Afghanistan—have carried out similar attacks in the past in the same area, which is located near the border with Afghanistan.
Hospital officials rushed to the scene and took the wounded to Lady Reading Hospital, a spokesman for the hospital said, adding that many of the wounded are in critical condition and several victims had limbs amputated.
“We are in a state of emergency and the injured are being shifted to the hospital. We are investigating the nature of the blast but it seemed to be a suicide attack,” said Mohammad Sajjad Khan, a local police officer.
The bomb attack was condemned by a U.S. Embassy official in Islamabad and Prime Minister Imran Khan, who urged authorities to assist everyone affected.
“The United States condemns the heinous and cowardly attack targeting a mosque in [Peshawar],” U.S. embassy chargé d’affaires Angela Aggeler, said in a statement. “We offer our deepest condolences to the victims and their families.”
In recent years, bomb attacks targeting Shiite mosques in Pakistan have claimed thousands of lives as the country experiences a broad increase of violence. Dozens of military personnel have also been killed in scores of attacks on army outposts along the border with Afghanistan.
Many attacks have been claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, which analysts say has been emboldened by the Afghan Taliban seizing power last August in Afghanistan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.