A suicide blast inside a Shia mosque shook Peshawar's Kocha Risaldar area on Friday, with officials saying that at least 56 people were killed and 194 were injured.
Mohammad Asim, a spokesperson for Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), confirmed the casualties, adding that some of the injured were in critical condition.
Officials, who termed the incident a suicide attack, initially said that two attackers were involved. However, CCTV footage released later in the day showed a lone attacker clad in a black shalwar kameez reaching the mosque in the city's Qissa Khwani Bazaar on foot and brandishing a pistol.
He opened fired on police personnel deployed outside the main entrance for security before running inside. The attacker also opened fire on a man who tried to stop him and managed to enter the mosque, where worshippers had gathered for Friday prayers, after which an explosion took place.
Speaking to the media, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Inspector General of Police Moazzam Jah Ansari said two police officials were deputed at the mosque for security.
He said that one constable was martyred, while another police official was in critical condition. The senior police officer said that around five to six kilogrammes of explosive material was used, adding that there were no prior reports about the attack.
Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Peshawar Mohammad Ijaz Khan confirmed the chain of events, adding that one police official was martyred in the gunfight outside the mosque.
However, talking to media at the site of the blast Peshawar SSP Operations Haroon Rasheed Khan said that two policemen had been martyred in the attack. He termed the explosion a suicide blast and said there was no "threat alert".
In a tweet late on Friday, Prime Minister Imran Khan said he was personally monitoring operations and coordinating with the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) as well as law enforcement agencies.
"We now have all [the] information regarding [the] origins of where the terrorists came from and are going after them with full force," he said.
"My deepest condolences go to the victims' families and prayers for the recovery of the injured. I have asked the KP chief minister to personally visit the families and look after their needs," he said.
'Dust and bodies everywhere'
Speaking to the media, KP government spokesman Barrister Mohammad Ali Saif said security was provided to mosques as a "general rule". He added that the administration had adopted security measures at this mosque as well, adding that such measures were always ensured during congregation prayers on Fridays.
"Those martyred and injured in the attack would be given monetary assistance under the government's special package," he said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
A witness Shayan Haider had been preparing to enter the mosque when a powerful explosion threw him to the street. "I opened my eyes and there was dust and bodies everywhere," he said.
Evidence was collected from the site, according to a tweet by the Peshawar CCPO account.
At the LRH emergency department, there was chaos as doctors struggled to move the many wounded into operating theatres. The hospital was put on red alert and more medical personnel were called to LRH, the spokesperson added.
A medical emergency was also notified in Peshawar district with all doctors and support staff at government health facilities and medical teaching institutions directed to remain on red alert.
According to locals, the area housed a number of markets and was usually packed around the time of Friday prayers.
The last major incident of a similar nature had taken place in Peshawar in July 2018, when a suicide blast had claimed 19 lives, including that of Awami National Party leader Haroon Bilour, in the city's Yakatoot area.
Bilour was targeted at an election gathering ahead of the 2018 general election, in which the ANP leader was contesting from the PK-78 constituency. The proscribed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan had claimed the responsibility for the blast.
President Dr Arif Alvi condemned the incident in a statement and expressed grief over the precious lives lost. He expressed sympathy with the families of the departed and also prayed for the recovery of the injured.
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid also condemned the attack, saying he had directed the provincial chief secretary and inspector general of police to submit a report.
He expressed grief over the lives lost in the incident.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that the Peshawar incident is a part of a "larger conspiracy". "We have fought against such conspiracies in the past. God willing the enemies of Pakistan will continue to fail."
PML-N President and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif offered condolences to the families of those martyred in the attack.
Strongly condemning the incident in a statement, Shehbaz said those who attacked worshippers could be "neither Muslims nor humans".
He also expressed concern over the "serious security conditions" in the country.
"Words can't adequately condemn the sheer brutality. Terrorism continues to remain our foremost national challenge," he added in a tweet later.
PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz also strongly condemned the incident, stating that the "return of the smell of explosives" in Pakistan's cities was worrying.
"The peace that was established by sacrificing precious lives has been affected by incompetence," she said referring to the current government. She prayed for the injured and the families of the martyrs.
PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said terrorists had "carried out an attack on humanity" by targeting innocent worshippers.
He demanded that the government immediately arrest terrorist elements and their facilitators.
The PPP chairperson said he was saddened by the non-implementation of the National Action Plan.
PPP's Senator Sherry Rehman echoed Bilawal's sentiments, saying, "An attack on people praying is an attack on the heart of all morality!"
She also criticised the government for its "inability to deal with the danger of escalating terrorism in the region".
Provincial Minister Kamran Bangash also offered his condolences to the victims' families, adding that he was on his way to the hospital.
"May Allah bless the departed souls and grant sabr to their loved ones," he tweeted.
German Ambassador to Pakistan Bernhard Schlagheck said he was heartbroken by the "act of horrific terror against worshippers in Peshawar".
"My colleagues at the embassy and I stand in solidarity with the victims and their families in this difficult hour. Wishing quick recovery to the injured," he said.