Deadly blast hits celebration rally in south-west Pakistan
At least 52 people have died and around 70 others were injured after a bomb exploded near a mosque at a rally celebrating the birthday of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed in south-west Pakistan, officials said.
The bombing occurred in Mastung, a district in Baluchistan province, according to government administrator Atta Ullah.
Injured people were taken to nearby hospitals and some are in a critical condition.
Abdul Rasheed, the district health officer in Mastung, 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 day-long 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 victims’ families.
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.
The government had declared a national holiday for the birth anniversary of Prophet Mohammed, 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 Friday’s bombing, but the Pakistani Taliban quickly distanced themselves from it.
Previous deadly attacks in Baluchistan and elsewhere have been claimed by the so-called Islamic State group. The gas-rich south-western 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.
Baluch 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 shootout with the Pakistani Taliban after insurgents tried to enter the south-western district of Zhob in Baluchistan province.
Three militants were killed in the exchange, the military said.
Also on Friday, a blast ripped through a mosque located on the premises of a police station in Hangu, a district in the north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killing at least five people and wounding seven, police said.
Officers added that two suicide bombers approached the mud-brick mosque and while guards shot and killed one, the other managed to reach the mosque and set off his explosives.
The mosque collapsed with about 40 people inside worshipping, most of them police officers, officials said. Rescuers were pulling people from the rubble.
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