Rawalpindi: An apparent suicide bomber struck a Shiite mosque in Pakistan`s garrison city of Rawalpindi on Friday, killing at least seven people and wounding 15 others, with police warning that the toll may rise.
The powerful explosion blew out windows and triggered chaos as dozens of minority Shiite Muslims gathered in the mosque to distribute alms to mark the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed.
The dead and wounded were wheeled out on carts through the narrow lanes, with security officials cordoning off the area to facilitate access for relief workers.
"I can confirm death of seven people and injuries to 15 others. This number may go up," senior administration official Sajid Zafar Dall told AFP.
"There were 100 to 150 people in the mosque at the time of attack," Dall said.
Another official at the scene said the casualties included policemen guarding the mosque, adding that the wounded had been sent to various hospitals in the city.
"I can see complete chaos... There are dead bodies and injured people inside the mosque," Muhammad Salim, a local police official, told AFP.
"The nature of explosion is immediately unclear but it may be a suicide attack," he said.
The head of the mosque, Shamim Syed, reported seeing the suicide bomber.
"There were security arrangements in place outside the mosque. A suicide bomber tried to enter the mosque and he was countered by police and our scouts. He then exploded himself," Syed told reporters.
Eyewitnesses said the resulting explosion was strong enough to shatter glass windows.
"There was a huge bang," one eyewitness, Sadia Widad, told AFP from the scene.
"The injured are being taken out of the mosque on carts because ambulances are unable to enter the narrow street.
"Lights went out due to power breakdown soon after the blast," she said.
Nobody has yet claimed responsibility but militants linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have targeted the country`s Shiite minority in the past.
A bomb targeting Shiites at a volleyball match killed at least four people and injured eight in Pakistan`s restive northwest last Sunday.
The incident happened at the Hussaini ground, owned by the local Shiite community in the Kalaya neighbourhood of the Orakzai tribal district.
Pakistan has strengthened its own offensive against the Taliban since their attack on a military-run school on December 16 killed 150 people, 134 of them children.
Pakistan described the carnage as its own "mini 9/11" and a game-changer in the fight against extremism.
The country ended its six-year-old moratorium on the death penalty in terror cases last month in the wake of the massacre.
Seven convicted militants have been hanged so far since the de facto ban on capital punishment ended.
To further boost its efforts, the government on Friday announced it was setting up of nine military courts to hear terrorism-related cases.