A powerful bomb blast ripped through a packed mosque in northwestern Pakistan Monday, killing at least 61 worshipers and injuring more than 150 others.
The afternoon attack in central Peshawar, the capital city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, was carried out by a suicide bomber, according to police.
A senior police official in Peshawar confirmed the number of those killed to VOA and said he feared the death toll would rise as there are still worshipers unaccounted for and bodies unidentified.
A top security official, Deputy Commissioner Shafiullah Khan, said two survivors were found in the rubble.
“I am here at the blast site and supervising the rescue operation. The rubble is being removed and we have just retrieved two survivors from under it,” Khan told state-run Pakistan television.
City hospital officials confirmed receiving dozens of injured and described the condition of several of them as “critical.”
The victims were mostly members of the provincial police force.
Survivors and rescue workers said the roof of the building had caved in due to the massive blast.
A survivor, police officer Meena Gul, said he was among the worshipers offering afternoon prayers when the bomb went off. He said he doesn’t know how he escaped unhurt, but he could hear cries and screams after the blast.
Police officials would not immediately discuss the nature of the attack, saying an investigation was underway.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif “has condemned the suicide mosque bombing” in Peshawar, an official statement said in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan, leader of the main opposition in Pakistan, also denounced the bombing, calling it a “terrorist suicide attack” in a Twitter post.
“It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering & properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism,” Khan said.
The mosque was frequented by security and government officials.
No one immediately took responsibility for the deadly bombing.
The Pakistani province borders Afghanistan and has experienced repeated terrorist attacks in recent months. Most of the violence in the past is claimed by the outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, known as the Pakistani Taliban.
The Pakistani Taliban, in a statement released to media outlets, including VOA, said it did not carry out Monday’s deadly attack.