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Dozens Killed And Hundreds Wounded During A Suicide Bomb Attack On A Pakistani Mosque

A suicide bomber has struck inside a Shia Muslim mosque in Pakistan's north-western city of Peshawar during Friday prayers, killing at least 56 worshippers and wounding 194 people.

The Islamic State group claimed the attack and threatened more violence against Pakistan's Shia minority.

Both IS 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 neighbouring Afghanistan.

According to a spokesperson at Peshawar's Lady Reading hospital, Asim Khan, many of the wounded were in a critical condition.

Scores of victims had shrapnel wounds, several had limbs amputated and others were injured by flying debris.

The Peshawar police chief, Muhammed Ejaz Khan, said the violence began when an armed attacker opened fire on officers outside the mosque in Peshawar's old city.

One police officer was killed in the gunfight, while another was wounded.

The attacker then ran inside the mosque and detonated his suicide vest.

The bomber had strapped a powerful explosive device to his body, packed with 5kg (12lbs) of explosives, said Moazzam Jah Ansari, the top police official for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where Peshawar is the capital.

The device was hidden beneath a large black shawl that covered much of the attacker's body, according to CCTV footage seen by the Associated Press.

The footage showed the bomber moving quickly up a narrow street toward the mosque entrance.

He fired at the police protecting the mosque before entering.

Within seconds, there was a powerful explosion and the camera lens was obscured with dust and debris.

Ansari said the crudely made device was packed with ball-bearings to inflict the most carnage.

Waheed Khan, a local police official, said the explosion occurred as worshippers gathered in the Kucha Risaldar mosque for Friday prayers.

There are fears the death toll could 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 hospital’s emergency department, there was chaos as doctors struggled to move the wounded into operating theatres.

Hundreds of relatives gathered outside the emergency department, many wailing and beating their chests, pleading for information about their loved ones.

Outside the mosque, Shias pressed through the cordoned-off streets.

Kucha Risaldar Mosque is one of the oldest in the area, predating the creation of Pakistan in 1947 as a separate homeland for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent.

The prayer leader, Allama Irshad Hussein Khalil, a prominent up and coming young Shia leader, was among the dead.

Throughout the city, ambulance sirens could be heard.

The prime minister, Imran Khan, condemned the bombing.

Sher Ali, a retired army officer who had been inside the mosque at the time of the explosion and was injured by flying shrapnel, made a impassioned plea to the government for better protection of Pakistan's Shia minority.

"What is our sin? What have we done? Aren't we citizens of this country?" he asked from within the emergency department, his white clothes splattered with blood.

In majority-Sunni Pakistan, minority Shia have come under repeated attack.

In recent months, Pakistan has experienced a significant increase in violence and dozens of military personnel have been killed in attacks on army outposts along the border with Afghanistan.

Many attacks have been claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, who analysts say have been emboldened by the Afghan Taliban seizing power last August.

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