At least two heavily armed suicide bombers Sunday assaulted a crowded church in Quetta, southwestern Pakistan, and killed at least nine worshipers from the minority Christian community.
Officials and doctors said women and children were among the victims of the attack on the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church, located in a highly secured central part of the city.
Witnesses said two of the assailants wanted to enter the main hall where around 400 worshipers were attending Sunday service, but police guards at the main gate engaged the attackers, killing one of them and leading the second to blow himself up outside the hall. The explosion fatally wounded a security guard, police said.
The provincial police chief, Inspector General Moazzam Ansari, told reporters a third suspected gunman fled to the nearby residential area during the exchange of fire and an operation was underway to hunt him down.
Ansari said the death toll could have been in the scores had the timely action by police guards on duty not stopped the bombers from entering the church hall.
A Christmas tree with decorative lights near a pool of blood around broken glass windows, overturned chairs, benches and musical instruments. Body parts of a bomber could also been seen nearby.
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan where militant attacks have surged in recent weeks. Islamist militants and separatist groups active in the Pakistani province often claim responsibility for terrorist attacks. Islamic State loyalists have also taken credit for some of the violence.