PESHAWAR, Pakistan: A bomb blast at an Islamic preaching centre in troubled northwest Pakistan on Thursday killed at least nine people and wounded more than 50, officials said.
The explosion took place at a centre run by the hardline Tablighi Jamaat group just metres from the military cantonment in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan and has been hit by numerous bombings in recent years.
"The death toll from the blast at the preaching centre has raised to nine," provincial health minister Shaukat Yousafzai told AFP. Initially, six people were reported killed.
"Seven patients are in critical condition and I fear a rise in the death toll," he said.
"The blast occurred in a preaching centre on Charsadda road near the military cantonment when around 800 people were offering evening prayers," local police official Ijaz Khan told AFP.
Bomb disposal squad chief Shafqat Malik confirmed the explosion.
"Around five kilograms (11 pounds) of explosive material were used in the blast, which was detonated with a timer device," he told AFP.
"We have defused two remote control bombs recovered from the preaching centre after the blast," he added. "Both the bombs were of five kilograms with cellphones attached to them."
He said the preaching centre had been evacuated and a search operation for more possible bombs was under way.
An AFP correspondent at the scene said human flesh and blood was scattered on the ground.
Worshippers said there was a huge blast while they were offering prayers and then the electricity went off.
Nadeem Khan, 32, who runs a dried fruit shop, said: "There was a huge explosion on my left side and I fell with a bang on the ground."
Khan does not remember what happened next but when he regained consciousness he found himself in a hospital bed.
"I saw doctors removing iron pieces from my left arm and leg," said Khan, who was discharged after receiving first aid at the city's Lady Reading Hospital.
Siddique Akbar, a 29-year-old student at Peshawar University, said: "There was a huge explosion and the lights went off. People were screaming and rushing towards the gate pushing each other and I fell to the ground and people were running over me."
Akbar was taken to hospital but was discharged after receiving first aid.
Police defused another bomb near a preaching centre in Nowshera city, 30 kilometres (19 miles) northeast of Peshawar, officials said.
"The bomb disposal squad has diffused a five-kilogram bomb planted near a preaching centre in Nowshera", local police official Rab Nawaz told AFP.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Al-Qaeda-linked militants have led a bloody campaign against the Pakistani state in recent years.
But TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid denied having any role in the blast.
"We don't kill innocent civilians and we have nothing to do with the blast," Shahid told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location. -AFP