ISLAMABAD, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) -- The death toll from the suicide blast that ripped through a mosque on Monday afternoon in Pakistan's northwest provincial capital of Peshawar rose to 44, an official told Xinhua.
Muhammad Asim, spokesperson for the Lady Reading Hospital, said the death toll rose after some of the wounded succumbed to their injuries and some more bodies were recovered from the debris of the mosque that collapsed following the blast.
The spokesperson added that at least 157 injured people are still under treatment, out of whom 12 to 15 are in critical condition at the hospital, fearing that the death toll might further rise.
The deceased included three police officers and other police personnel, civilians, a prayer leader and a woman who was residing in a house near the mosque. At least three of the victims have not been identified yet.
Muhammad Ijaz Khan, capital city police officer of Peshawar in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, told Xinhua that around 300 people were praying in the mosque of the Police Lines area of the city when the blast happened, killing and wounding the people including the police officers.
He said the powerful blast damaged a portion of the mosque building, which caved in and trapped many worshippers.
The Police Lines is located in Peshawar's most sensitive area of cantonment where a large number of law enforcement agencies, including Frontier Corps, the counter-terrorism department of KP police, are situated, according to local reports.
Official sources from the Peshawar police told Xinhua that the target of the suicide bomber was the police personnel, adding that the bomber managed to sneak into the highly sensitive area before blowing himself up in the mosque.
Following the explosion, the provincial health department declared an emergency in district Peshawar and asked all medical personnel to remain on duty. Security forces condoned off the area and launched a full-fledged investigation into the incident.
Rahim Khan, a 35-year-old local resident, said he was inside the mosque when he suddenly heard a loud bang followed by cries and screams of the wounded.
"For a moment I could not believe my eyes. I saw people covered in blood lying everywhere while screaming for help. This is the most horrible incident of my life ... I am still in a state of shock," Khan told Xinhua.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif strongly condemned the blast, saying the entire nation was standing united against the menace of terrorism.
"Terrorists want to create fear by targeting those who perform the duty of defending Pakistan," he said, adding that a comprehensive strategy will be adopted to counter the deteriorating law and order situation in KP and the federal government will help provinces increasing their anti-terrorism capacity.
No group has claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing yet.