The death toll from a suspected suicide bomb blast at a procession to celebrate the birthday of Prophet Muhammad in Pakistan’s Balochistan province has climbed to 52, officials and media reports say.
The powerful bomb exploded on Friday near a mosque in Mastung district of Balochistan, wounding dozens of others, including many in a critical condition, local officials said.
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The Reuters news agency, quoting Abdul Rasheed, a district health official, said at least 52 people had died in the blast and 58 others were wounded.
Rasheed said the toll could further rise as many people were in a serious condition.
“It seems a suicide attack” senior local police officer Javed Lehri, adding that the bomber blew himself up near the vehicle of Deputy Superintendent of Police Nawaz Gishkori.
Balochistan’s government administrator Atta Ullah said a senior police officer, Mohammad Nawaz, was among the dead. The injured were taken to nearby hospitals, he said.
The country’s interior ministry confirmed a blast carried out by “terrorist elements” in Balochistan.
“The attack on innocent people who came to participate in the procession of Eid Milad-un-Nabi is a very heinous act,” it said in a statement, referring to the prophet’s birthday.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet.
The Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), quickly distanced itself from the attack.
The TTP is a separate group but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban, which seized power in neighbouring Afghanistan in August 2021. Last year, the group broke a ceasefire with the government which led to a resurgence of its deadly attacks across the country.
Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder said the TTP, which had been carrying out attacks in the area, has denied it was involved.
“And that of course would raise alarm bells because the area has seen the presence of Islamic State [ISIL or ISIS] elements,” he said.
Friday’s bombing came days after authorities asked police to remain on maximum alert as armed groups could target rallies making the occasion.
Muslims in Pakistan and around the world celebrate the birthday of Islam’s prophet by holding public gatherings.
While the celebration is accepted by a majority of Islamic sects, certain denominations view it as an unwarranted innovation.
Pakistan has in the past been the site of attacks by armed groups.
Earlier this month, at least 11 people, including a prominent religious leader, were injured in a blast in the same district of Balochistan, the Dawn newspaper said.
In July, more than 40 people were killed in a suicide bombing in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province at a religious political party’s gathering.
The gas-rich Balochistan province at the border of Afghanistan and Iran has been the site of a low-intensity rebellion by Baloch separatists for more than two decades.
The separatists initially wanted a share of the provincial resources, but later launched a movement calling for independence.