At least 30 people were killed and 80 wounded in a suicide attack at a Shiite mosque on Friday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, where rescuers frantically ferried the dead and wounded from the scene.
One witness saw the attacker enter the mosque before Friday prayers and open “fire with a pistol”, picking out the worshippers “one-by-one”.
He “then blew himself up”, Ali Asghar said.
The attack comes on the first day of a cricket Test match in Rawalpindi — around 190 kilometres (120 miles) to the east — between Pakistan and Australia, who haven’t toured the country in nearly a quarter of a century because of security concerns.
Muhammad Ali Saif, a spokesman for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government, told AFP “more than 30” were killed and some 80 others wounded in the blast near Peshawar’s Kocha Risaldar, a similar distance west of the capital Islamabad.
“It was a suicide attack,” he said.
An AFP reporter saw body parts strewn at the site, where desperate family members were held back by police. The explosion blew out the windows of nearby buildings.
“I saw a man firing at two policemen before he entered the mosque. Seconds later I heard a big bang,” said witness Zahid Khan.
– Police officers shot –
Peshawar police chief Muhammad Ijaz Khan told AFP the death toll could be higher than 30 and that two attackers were involved.
He said two police officers were shot at the entrance of the mosque.
“One policeman died on the spot while the other was critically injured,” he said.
Muhammad Asim Khan, a spokesman for Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital said “we have declared an emergency at the hospitals and more injured are being brought”.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s office said he “strongly condemned” the attack.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the apparent suicide bombing.
Peshawar — just 50 kilometres from the porous border with Afghanistan — was a frequent target of militants in the early 2010s but security has greatly improved in recent years.
Sunni majority Pakistan has recently been battling a resurgence of its domestic chapter of the Taliban, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
A one-month truce last year failed to hold and there are fears the TTP — which has targeted Shia Muslims in the past — has been emboldened by the success of the Afghan Taliban.
Shiites in the region have also been targeted by the regional iteration of the Islamic State group, Islamic State Khorasan (ISK).
At least 31 people were killed in a suicide blast at a crowded market in Peshawar in 2018.
At least 88 people died and hundreds more were wounded a year earlier when a suicide bomber blew himself up among a crowd of devotees at a revered Sufi shrine in southern Sindh province.