Peshawar, Pakistan: Police were among 61 people killed and 150 wounded in a blast at a mosque inside a highly sensitive Pakistan police headquarters on Monday, prompting the government to put the country on high alert.
The attack happened during afternoon worship in the provincial capital of Peshawar, close to former tribal areas that border Afghanistan where militancy has been steadily rising.
Prime Minister Shebaz Sharif called the blast a suicide attack. There were at least 260 people in the mosque, police official Sikandar Khan added.
A frantic rescue mission was underway at the mosque, which had an entire wall and some of its roof blown out by the force of the blast.
"Many policemen are buried under the rubble," said Peshawar police chief Muhammad Ijaz Khan, who estimated between 300 and 400 officers usually attended prayers at the mosque.
"Efforts are being made to get them out safely," he said.
Bloodied survivors emerged limping from the wreckage, while bodies were ferried away in ambulances as the rescue operation continued.
"It's an emergency situation," Muhammad Asim Khan, a spokesman for the main hospital in Peshawar, told AFP.
The death toll continued to rise as more bodies were pulled from the debris, rising to 61 killed with more than 150 wounded.
As darkness fell, at least four men were still trapped in the wreckage, visible through cracks in the concrete.
"We have given them oxygen so that they don't have problems in breathing," said Bilal Ahmad Faizi, a spokesperson for the rescue organisation 1122.
The police headquarters in Peshawar is in one of the most tightly controlled areas of the city, housing intelligence and counter-terrorism bureaus, and is next door to the regional secretariat.
The country was put on high alert after the blast, with checkpoints ramped up and extra security forces deployed, while in the capital Islamabad snipers were deployed on buildings and at city entrance points.
"Terrorists want to create fear by targeting those who perform the duty of defending Pakistan," said Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in a statement.
"Those fighting against Pakistan will be wiped out from the face of earth."
'Black smoke rising'
Officers said the blast came from the second row of worshippers, with bomb disposal teams probing the possibility of a suicide attack.
Shahid Ali, a policeman who survived, said the explosion took place seconds after the imam started prayers.
"I saw black smoke rising to the sky. I ran out to save my life," the 47-year-old told AFP.
"The screams of the people are still echoing in my mind," he added. "People were screaming for help."