QUETTA, Pakistan - At least 40 people were killed and dozens more wounded in Balochistan province on Friday by a suicide bomber targeting a procession marking the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed, officials said.
A second suicide attack by two men at a mosque hundreds of kilometres north in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province led to a roof collapse that killed four people, officials said.
While the celebration of the Prophet's birthday is accepted by the majority of Islamic sects in Pakistan, certain denominations view it as an unwarranted innovation.
In southwestern Balochistan, officials said a suicide bomber detonated a device as rallies from neighbourhood mosques converged on a meeting point in Mastung, around 40 kilometres south of the provincial capital, Quetta.
"All of a sudden I heard an explosion... many people got injured and many were martyred," said Ilyas Khan, a student.
Local hospitals were overwhelmed by the number of wounded, and provincial authorities used social media platforms to appeal for blood donors.
"At least 45 fatalities have been confirmed, and 70 individuals have sustained injuries in the explosion," Zubair Jamali, the provincial home minister, told AFP.
A district police officer gave a slightly lower toll.
"I can confirm that the current death toll has risen to a minimum of 42 individuals, with over 65 others injured," Shoaib Masood told AFP
Every year, mosques and government buildings are elaborately illuminated with strings of lights, and people march in processions to mark the Prophet's birthday.
On the same occasion in April 2006, a suicide bomber killed at least 50 people in the port city of Karachi after detonating a device at a gathering of Sunni Muslims.
Surge in violence
Friday's blast comes as Pakistan prepares for an election due in January next year — while grappling with a political crisis, a crippled economy, and a surge in militant violence inspired by the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2021.
Jan Achakzai, Balochistan's minister for information, announced a three-day mourning period.
Balochistan, Pakistan's least populous province, is also home to several militant groups fighting for independence or a greater share of the region's mineral resources.
Hundreds of kilometres north in Hangu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, four people were killed after the roof of a mosque collapsed following a blast as two gunmen attempted to storm the building.
"They were intercepted at the gate of the mosque and an exchange of fire ensued," Nisar Ahmed, a senior police official, told AFP.
"Subsequently, an explosion occurred, resulting in the collapse of the mosque's roof."
In July, more than 40 people were killed in a suicide bombing in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at a religious political party's gathering.
Pakistan's Taliban have stepped up attacks against military and government targets since the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan in August 2021.
But the group said it had nothing to do with the Balochistan attack.
The regional chapter of the Islamic State group, known as Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), has also carried out attacks in the area in the past.
"The attack on innocent people who came to participate in the procession... is a very heinous act," the interior ministry said in a statement.
Separately, Pakistan's military said Friday four soldiers had been killed as they fought an attempt by TTP militants to infiltrate Balochistan from Afghanistan.