At least 14 people were killed and more than 90 others injured in a suicide bomb attack on a packed Shiite mosque in the Pakistani city of Karachi during Friday Muslim prayers, officials said.
“We have 13 bodies in the Civil Hospital. Another man who lost both his legs expired in another hospital later,” police officer Salman Waheed told AFP.
The dead included the imam (prayer leader) of the mosque, Khawaja Kumail, officials said.
The bomb was detonated among rows of worshippers in the Haideri Mosque, adjacent to the southern port city’s historic Sindh Madarsahtul Islam School, provincial government advisor on security Aftab Sheikh told AFP.
The mosque belonged to the minority Shiite Muslim sect while the school was founded by Pakistan’s founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
Sindh provincial government spokesman Salahuddin Haider said the attacker was a suicide bomber.
“It is established now that it was a suicide attack,” Haider told AFP.
The bomber sneaked into the middle of the congregation and detonated the bomb, he said.
Panic spread in the area and volunteers rushed casualties to hospital in cars, auto-rickshaws and on motor bikes, witnesses said.
The blast destroyed part of the mosque roof and shattered windows.
“A fireball was seen emerging from the site of the blast,” injured Mushtaq Ali told AFP. “I was hurt by a splinter.”
Witnesses said several people had their limbs severed. Blood spattered on the floor and severed limbs were seen lying in the mosque. Hospital officials said at least 25 injured were in critical condition.
In a display of religious harmony, the imam from the nearby Sunni mosque appealed to his community to join the relief work, witnesses said.
Hundreds of people chanting slogans against the blast gathered at the city’s Jamshed Town neighbourhood and later torched three minibuses, forcing police to divert traffic, they said.
“The situation is tense and we are trying to bring it under control,” a police officer said.
A state of emergency has been declared in the main Civil Hospital in the city where more than 50 people have been admitted with head and abdomen injuries. Many were suffering from burns.
Weeping relatives of the victims were crying and embracing each other amid scenes of chaos at the hospital, witnesses said.
Police officer Gul Hameed Sammo told AFP one or two bodies were “charred and badly mutilated.” Sammo believed the attacker was among the dead.
City police chief Tariq Jamil blamed the attack on sectarian militants.
“We cannot say for sure which group was behind the blast,” Jamil told AFP.
“We are trying to draw sketches of the suspected suicide bomber with the help of eye-witnesses.”
The attack was swiftly condemned by the president and politicians.
“It’s a barbaric act. We cannot say who is behind it, but this act is a sheer barbarism,” Shiite senator Abbas Komeili said.
President Pervez Musharraf “strongly condemned the attack” his office said.
“He has directed the administration to carry out a thorough investigation and reiterated the government’s resolve to eliminate terrorism.”
The attack follows a car bombing on Monday which killed three Chinese engineers in the coastal town of Gwadar, some 450 kilometres (280 miles) west of Karachi.
Scores of Pakistanis have been killed in suspected sectarian violence over the past year.
Some 48 people were killed in an attack on a Shiite religious procession in the southwestern city of Quetta in March.
A bloody attack on a Shiite mosque in Quetta also left 48 people dead and sparked violent protests in July.
Shiites form 20 percent of the country’s 145 million population. Sectarian violence involving militants from the two communities have claimed more than 4,000 people over the past several years across the country.