A powerful suicide blast ripped through a mosque in Pakistan's restive Balochistan province on Friday, killing at least 54 people and injuring over 100 others who were preparing to celebrate Prophet Muhammad's birthday, the police said.
Hours later, another blast at a mosque in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Hangu city killed at least four people and injured 12 others.
At Mastung, the explosion occurred near Madina Mosque on Al Falah Road in the Mastung district when people had gathered in large numbers to mark Eid Miladun Nabi, city station house officer Mohammad Javed Lehri said.
“The explosion was a ‘suicide blast'. The bomber exploded himself next to the deputy superintendent of police's car,” Lehri said.
Later, a hand grenade was also defused by the bomb squad from near the blast site, he said.
Bordering Afghanistan and Iran, Balochistan is Pakistan's largest province and has frequently been hit by terror groups including the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and the Islamic State group.
Mastung's DSP Nawaz Gishkori, who was on duty for the rally, was found dead among others.
Lehri said the wounded were shifted to a medical facility even as an emergency has been imposed in the hospitals.
District Health Officer Rashid Muhammad Saeed said the situation at the hospitals across the town was chaotic as relatives and friends of those killed and injured were making it difficult for the doctors and nurses to perform their duties.
“Around 20 of the patients who were in critical condition have been moved to Quetta for treatment,” he said.
Balochistan Inspector General (IG) Abdul Khalique Sheikh said the suicide bomber blew himself up close to groups of people who were gathering near the mosque to take out the Rabiul Awwal procession to celebrate the Prophet's birthday.
“Until now we have 54 confirmed casualties," he said, adding that the injured have been sent to hospitals in Mastung and Quetta.
Sheikh said DSP Ghashhori was killed after he apparently spotted the suicide bomber and tried to stop him. “Three other police officers were also injured in the blast,” he said.
The IG said he was not aware of the exact number of people injured but they were in dozens.
The TTP has denied involvement in Friday's blast, saying in a statement that such an attack was against its policies. The group also condemned the attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, stating that "mosques, schools, and public gatherings are not part of our targets".
Sheikh said the suspicion is centred around the Daesh (also known as ISIS) terror outfit.
“It is still too early to say who is behind this attack but in the past Daesh militants have been active in Mastung district,” he said.
Sheikh said Daesh had previously claimed responsibility for such attacks in the past.
Mastung District Headquarters Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Nisar Ahmed said 18 bodies were brought to his hospital, while the remaining were moved to the Naqab Ghous Bakhsh Raisani Memorial Hospital in Mastung and Civil Hospital in Quetta.
The Naqab Ghous Bakhsh Raisani Memorial Hospital CEO Dr Saeed Mirwani has confirmed that his hospital received 32 bodies, while four bodies were sent to the Civil Hospital in Quetta.
Mirwani said over 100 wounded persons were brought to the hospital of which those in critical condition were referred to Quetta.
Nisar said 20 people were receiving treatment at Mastung DHQ.
Mastung deputy commissioner Abdul Razzaq Sasoli said the suicide bomber had waited to get close to the process lining up near the Madina mosque.
“It was a deadly blast and there were bloodied corpses, limbs, and body parts strewn all over the place after the blast. We have now contained the area,” he said.
Balochistan has in the last two years been the hotbed of terror attacks by separatist groups with militants belonging to banned religious outfits with the Shia-Sunni Muslim factor also playing a role in these attacks.
In the past, radical Sunni groups have claimed responsibility for attacking Shia Muslim Hazara community members in Quetta and other parts of the province.
Sasoli said it is still to be determined whether the attack was a religiously motivated one or a terror attack.
Unverified images and videos emerging afterward of the blast depicted bloodied corpses and severed limbs strewn around as bystanders assessed the extent of the damage.
Balochistan interim Information Minister Jan Achakzai said rescue teams have been dispatched to Mastung.
“The enemy wants to destroy religious tolerance and peace in Balochistan ...,” Achakzai said.
Caretaker Chief Minister Ali Mardan Domki has directed authorities to arrest those responsible for the blast.
Meanwhile, in the unruly Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province few hours later, at least four people died and 12 others were injured in the suicide blast that ripped through a mosque during the Juma prayers close to the Doaba police station in Hangu district.
There were 30 to 40 worshippers in the mosque at the time of the blast.
According to police, five terrorists had entered the Daoba police station but were immediately engaged by the law enforcement forces in a firing. While one terrorist was killed in the firing, the other blew himself near the mosque building causing its roof to collapse.
Three terrorists fled the scene, police said. Both Deputy Commissioner Fazle Akbar and IGP Akhtar Hayat Gandapur have confirmed in separate statements the number of casualties and those injured and added that the Hangu mosque rescue operation was complete.
Administrative and political leadership expressed outrage in response to the blasts.
In Balochistan, caretaker Chief Minister Domki has directed authorities to arrest those responsible for the blast. He also announced three days of mourning throughout the province over the tragic incident.
Interim Interior Minister Sarfraz Ahmed Bugti also strongly condemned the blast.
Stating that “terrorists have no faith or religion”, Bugti asserted that all resources were being put to use during the rescue operation. He added that no effort would be spared in treating the injured and that terrorist elements did not deserve any concession.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president and former premier Shehbaz Sharif said that carrying out such a despicable act on an occasion marking the birth of the Holy Prophet is detestable now and in the hereafter.
He condemned the attack and offered condolences to the families of the deceased and injured.
Soon after the explosion in Balochistan, the Punjab police also said that its officers were performing security duties for Friday prayers at mosques across the province.
The police in Karachi said that Additional Inspector General Khadim Husain Rind has directed the police to remain “completely on high alert” in view of the Mastung blast.
He directed the policemen to tighten security arrangements regarding Eid-i-Miladun Nabi processions and Friday prayers across the city, as well as to monitor any unusual activities.
This is the second major blast that has terrorised Mastung over the last 15 days, Geo News reported.
Earlier this month, at least 11 people were injured in a blast in the same district.
Mastung has remained a target of terror attacks for the past several years with a major attack in July 2018 being one of the deadliest in the district's history during which at least 128 people were killed.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which was set up as an umbrella group of several terrorist outfits in 2007, called off a ceasefire with the federal government and ordered its terrorists to stage terrorist attacks across the country.
The group, which is believed to be close to al-Qaeda, has been blamed for several deadly attacks across Pakistan, including an attack on army headquarters in 2009, assaults on military bases, and the 2008 bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.
In January, a Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up in a mosque packed with worshippers during afternoon prayers in Pakistan's restive northwestern Peshawar city, killing over 100 people.
Last year, a similar attack inside a Shia mosque in the Kocha Risaldar area in the city killed 63 people.
Pakistan has been gripped by a spate of terror attacks, with Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa particularly being under the radar of militants targeting security forces and civilians.