Suicide bombings at two mosques in Pakistan kill at least 57

By Saleem Ahmed and Mushtaq Ali

QUETTA/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) -Suicide bombings ripped through two mosques in Pakistan on Friday, killing at least 57 people, including seven children, as believers marked the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad, police and health officials said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, from which the death toll could climb, with many people seriously injured and others having been trapped beneath the wreckage.

In the first blast, in Mastung in the southwestern province of Balochistan, the bomber detonated his explosives near a police vehicle where people were gathering for a procession, senior police official Munir Ahmed said.

At least 52 people were killed, according to district health official Abdul Rasheed, including the children who were aged nine to 11. At least 58 people were injured.

“The injured were crying for help,” witness Munir Ahmed Shahwani said.

“I saw at least 25 bodies on the spot, which included small children,” he said, adding people were looking for their loved ones.

A deputy superintendent of police was among those killed as he oversaw security arrangements in the area, police said.

“Nawaz Gishkori tried to stop the suicide bomber, but he blew himself up after getting close to him,” Javed Lehri, a senior police officer said.

The gathering, in which people were carrying flags and banners, was at a mosque belonging to the Barelvi sect, generally considered more moderate than hardline Islamic sects such as Salafism.

Some hardline sects consider veneration of the Prophet Mohammad as heresy.

The second attack, in neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, killed five people at a mosque, according to rescue officials. The roof collapsed, broadcaster Geo News said, trapping about 30 to 40 people under the rubble.

The attack involved two explosions, one of which was at the mosque gate and the other in the compound, an official said.

A surge in militant attacks in Pakistan’s western provinces has cast a shadow on election preparations and public campaigning in the run-up to January’s national election, but until now the attacks had mostly targeted security forces.

Both provinces border Afghanistan and have suffered attacks in recent years by Islamist militants aiming to overthrow Pakistan’s government and install their own brand of strict Islamic law.

Caretaker Prime Minister Anwar ul Haq Kakar, in Saudi Arabia for the religious pilgrimage of Umrah, condemned the blasts and called for full support for victims.

Kakar heads a caretaker government meant to oversee a national election scheduled for the last week of January.

Militant attacks have surged since 2022 when a ceasefire broke down between the government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella body of hardline Sunni Islamist groups.

The TTP, responsible for some of the bloodiest attacks in Pakistan since its formation in 2007, denied responsibility for Friday’s blasts.

TTP also denied involvement in a Peshawar police mosque bombing in January that killed 100 people, but a faction of the umbrella group later claimed the attack.

In July, more than 40 people were killed in a suicide bombing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at a religious political party’s gathering. The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for that attack.

(Reporting by Saleem Ahmed in Quetta, Mushtaq Ali in Peshawar and Ariba Shahid in Karachi; Writing by Shivam Patel and Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Miral Fahmy, Clarence Fernandez, Philippa Fletcher, Kevin Liffey and Alison Williams)