A suicide bomber has targeted a Shi'ite Muslim mosque in northwest Pakistan, killing 24 people and wounding up to 55 as worshippers poured out of weekly prayers, officials say.
The bomber on Friday detonated explosives packed into a motorcycle in a narrow lane containing both the Shi'ite and a Sunni Muslim mosque in the town of Hangu, the latest bloody sectarian attack in a country where such violence is on the rise.
Pools of blood and pieces of human flesh littered the street after the attack, which also destroyed at least five nearby shops, witnesses said.
"It was a suicide attack which targeted Shi'ites but Sunni Muslims also fell victim since their mosque and some shops were also very close to the site," district police chief Mian Muhammad Saeed told AFP.
"We have found the head of the bomber, who came there on a motorbike," he said, putting the death toll at 24 with up to 55 others wounded.
Police said the bomb exploded as Shi'ites were leaving Friday prayers and Sunnis were going into their mosque for the main weekly sermon.
Hangu has long been a flashpoint for violence against minority Shi'ites, who make up an estimated 20 per cent of Pakistan's population of 180 million.
The town is close to Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt on the Afghan border where Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked militants have carved out strongholds.
"The Shi'ite and Sunni mosques are very close to each other, and the explosion took place just as Shi'ites were coming out of the mosque and Sunnis were going into their mosque to say Friday prayers," said police official Imtiaz Shah.
Muzammil Hussain, a 28-year-old Shi'ite who received wounds to his head and hand, told AFP he heard the blast as he left the mosque.
"As soon as I reached the mosque exit, a huge blast rocked the area. Many people fell on me with the impact of the blast," he said by telephone from the District Headquarters hospital (DHQ) in nearby Kohat.
"I saw red and bloodied pieces of human flesh everywhere. It was a scene I'd never seen in my life before. I was half conscious when people shifted me to a local hospital, from where my family took me to the DHQ," he said.
Police constable Raaz Muhammad, who took part in the rescue effort, said the blast damaged two shops selling cosmetics and three trading in vegetables.
"I could see pieces of human flesh and big blood stains on the boundary walls of the mosque and on nearby shops," he said.
"The entire street was littered with sandals and caps of the people who were coming out of the mosque," he added.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.