A suicide bomber targeted a crowd near a mosque during a celebration of Prophet Muhammad’s birthday in Balochistan province, Pakistan. The attack claimed the lives of 52 people, with over 50 others injured.

The incident occurred amid a surge in attacks by militant groups in western Pakistan ahead of national elections scheduled for January.

The suicide attacker’s identity remains unknown. He detonated himself near the vehicle of the deputy superintendent of police. The blast reverberated near a mosque where people had gathered for a religious procession to mark the Prophet’s birthday.

The Pakistani Taliban, comprising various hardline Sunni Islamist factions, swiftly denied any responsibility for the attack. Previous deadly attacks in Balochistan and other areas of Pakistan have often been claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS).

Casualties were transported to hospitals in Mastung, a city near Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan.

Among the deceased is a senior police officer named Mohammad Nawaz, as confirmed by government administrator Atta Ullah.

The government declared a national holiday for the birthday of Prophet Muhammad also known as Mawlid an-Nabi, reflecting its importance in the lives of Pakistan’s citizens. President Arif Alvi and the caretaker prime minister, Anwaarul-Haq-Kakar, issued separate messages, calling for unity and urging people to follow the Prophet’s teachings on this occasion.

Local authorities declared a state of emergency. Heightened security measures are implemented across Balochistan province.

Authorities were on high alert in the lead-up to the celebration. There were concerns that militants might target gatherings during the day-long festivities. These celebrations traditionally involve processions, prayers, and the distribution of free meals to the community.

The incident raises concerns about the close alliance between the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban, which took control of neighbouring Afghanistan in August 2021 as US and NATO troops withdrew from the country after 20 years of conflict. While they are distinct groups, their connections and possible collaboration in carrying out attacks on both sides of the border remain a cause for concern.

Balochistan, a gas-rich southwestern province situated on the borders of Afghanistan and Iran, has been plagued by a long-standing low-level insurgency led by Baloch nationalists. Initially seeking a fair share of provincial resources, these groups later shifted their focus to advocating for independence.

The persistence of this conflict has added to the security challenges faced by authorities in the region.