At least 52 people have died and about 70 others injured after a bomb exploded near a mosque at a rally celebrating the birthday of Islam’s prophet Muhammad in southwest Pakistan, officials have said.
The explosion occurred in Mastung, a district in Baluchistan province, according to government administrator Atta Ullah.
Those with injuries were taken to nearby hospitals, with some are in critical condition.
Abdul Rasheed, the district health officer, said 30 bodies were taken to one hospital and 22 others were counted at another.
A senior police officer, Mohammad Nawaz, was among the dead, Mr Ullah said. Officers are investigating to determine whether the bombing was a suicide attack.
Muslims in Pakistan and around the world celebrate the birthday of Islam’s prophet by holding public gatherings. The birth anniversary is known as Mawlid an-Nabi. During the daylong celebrations, Muslims also distribute free meals to people.
Friday’s bombing came days after authorities asked police to remain on maximum alert as militants could target rallies making the event.
Pakistan’s president Arif Alvi condemned the attack and asked authorities to provide all possible assistance to the wounded and the families of victims.
In a statement, caretaker interior minister Sarfraz Bugti denounced the bombing and expressed sorrow and grief over the loss of lives. He said it was a “heinous act” to target people at the Mawlid an-Nabi procession.
A national holiday had been declared for the birth anniversary of Muhammad and president Arif Alvi and caretaker prime minister Anwaarul-haq-Kakar had called for unity and for people to adhere to the teachings of the prophet.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing but the Pakistani Taliban quickly distanced themselves.
Previous deadly attacks in Baluchistan and elsewhere have been claimed by the so-called Islamic State group. The gas-rich southwestern Baluchistan province at the border of Afghanistan and Iran has been the site of a low-level insurgency by Baluch nationalists for more than two decades.
These nationalists initially wanted a share of provincial resources but they later launched an insurgency calling for independence.
Separately on Friday, the military said two soldiers were killed in a shoot-out with the Pakistani Taliban after insurgents tried to enter the southwestern district of Zhob in Baluchistan province.
Three militants were killed in the exchange, the military said. – PA