A suicide bomb blast Friday ripped through a crowded minority Shiite Muslim mosque in northwestern Pakistan, killing at least 56 worshippers and injuring at least 194.
The regional affiliate of the self-proclaimed Islamic State terrorist group, known as IS-Khorasan Province, claimed responsibility for the bombing.
The deadly attack occurred during afternoon prayers in a congested neighborhood in central Peshawar, the capital of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Mohammad Asim, a spokesman for the nearby Lady Reading Hospital, confirmed the casualties. He told reporters that more than a dozen of the injured were in critical condition and the death toll could increase.
Haroon Rashid, a senior police officer, told reporters that the attacker stormed the mosque in the famous Qissa Khwani Bazaar, shooting and killing two police guards at the gate before detonating his vest inside the main hall packed with hundreds of worshippers.
A witness, Shayan Haider, had been preparing to enter the mosque when a powerful explosion threw him onto the street.
"I opened my eyes and there was dust and bodies everywhere," the English-language Dawn newspaper quoted Haider as saying.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan strongly condemned the attack and directed the authorities to provide urgent care to those affected, his office said.
Khan later tweeted that he was “personally" monitoring operations and coordinating with counterterrorism authorities in the wake of “the cowardly terrorist” attack.
“We now have all info regarding origins of where the terrorists came from & are going after them with full force,” he said, without elaborating.
The attack was one of the deadliest in Pakistan in recent years.
Attacks on Shiite places of worship are common in Pakistan, a predominately Sunni Muslim nation. Militants linked to the Islamic State militant group and the outlawed Pakistani Taliban have carried out similar attacks.
Friday’s deadly blast drew international condemnation.
“Houses of worship should be havens, not targets,” tweeted U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. “I condemn today’s horrific attack on a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan, during Friday prayers.”
The U.N. chief expressed his condolences to the victims’ families and solidarity with the people of Pakistan.
"The United States condemns the heinous and cowardly attack targeting a mosque in Peshawar,” said Angela Aggeler, the U.S. embassy chargé d’affaires. “We offer our deepest condolences to the victims and their families,” she added in statement tweeted by the embassy.
Friday’s attack came while Australian cricket players are in Pakistan for a bilateral tournament series, the first visit by an Australian team to the terrorism-stricken South Asian nation in 24 years. The first match between the two countries began under tight security Friday in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
Major cricket-playing countries have avoided sending their teams to Pakistan since a deadly terrorist attack on the visiting Sri Lankan team in the eastern city of Lahore in 2009.
Improved security measures countrywide have encouraged some foreign teams to visit the country in recent years.
New Zealand Cricket abandoned its tour of Pakistan in September, just before opening its first match in Rawalpindi, citing security concerns.