PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- A bomb ripped through a crowded mosque where evening prayers were being held Thursday, killing six people and wounding 60 others, officials said. The dead included two children.
The explosion occurred in the main prayer hall of a sprawling Islamic seminary near a military cantonment on the outskirts of Peshawar, a provincial capital in northwest Pakistan, said police official Najeebur Rehman. Two people were killed instantly while four others died of their injuries at a hospital, Rehman said.
A state of emergency was declared in Peshawar’s hospitals and officials asked for blood donations as the dead and wounded were brought to overwhelmed health facilities.
Witnesses said a loud explosion occurred during the evening prayers at a mosque frequented by followers of the Tablighi Jamaat, an evangelical Sunni Muslim movement that claims millions of adherents in South Asia.
Jamal Khan, whose leg was fractured in the stampede, said he was standing in a row of worshipers when a blast occurred in the main hall.
“I myself was offering prayers when a loud explosion occurred somewhere in the back rows,” Khan said. He said the explosion caused worshipers to panic and hordes of people began fleeing the hall.
Police said a large number of people had gathered at the Islamic center for weekly prayers Thursday, estimating the number of worshipers at about 800.
Shafqat Malik, chief of the provincial bomb squad, told Pakistani media the bomb was planted inside a canister of ghee, or clarified butter, inside the hall and detonated using a timer.
Al Qaeda-allied militant groups, including the Pakistani Taliban, have routinely been accused of bomb attacks against government targets inside Pakistan. But the Pakistani Taliban leadership has called for an end to attacks on civilians, and sought to distance itself from the attack.
“We don’t kill innocent civilians and we have nothing to do with the blast,” a spokesman for the Pakistan Taliban, Shahidullah Shahid, told news agencies.
Special correspondent Ali reported from Peshawar and Times staff writer Bengali from New Delhi.