PESHAWAR -- At least eight students were killed and 96 wounded in a bomb attack on a Koran study class at a madrassa in the Dir Colony area of suburban Peshawar on Tuesday (October 27).
"There were hundreds of students gathered in the main hall of the mosque when the bomb went off during the second lecture of the day at around 8am," said eyewitness Abdul Rahman.
A fire broke out in the main hall after the explosion, he said.
"A man came into the main hall with a bag. A while after he left, the explosives believed to be in the bag went off," said Superintendent of Police in Peshawar City Waqar Azeem, adding that terrorists triggered the bomb by using a timer.
"About 5kg of powerful explosives were used in the blast," said Shafqat Malik, assistant inspector general of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Bomb Disposal Squad.
A search operation is under way to track down the suspects, police officials said.
At least 76 wounded were taken to Lady Reading Hospital, 36 were brought to Nasir Ullah Babar Hospital, and a few others we taken to Hayatabad Medical Complex and Khyber Teaching Hospital, according to local officials.
"Most of those killed and injured were hit by ball bearings, and some were badly burned," Khan told AFP.
All of the dead were men aged between 20 and 40, he said. Teachers and boys as young as seven years old were among the wounded.
More than 1,000 students are enrolled at the religious school, which has one section for students aged 18 and older and another for children, teacher Safiullah Khan told AFP.
"The blast took place in the section where students above the age of 18 were taking a class," he said, adding that the wall between the two sections collapsed in the blast.
Some of the students who were unharmed rushed to help the wounded.
"I brought around eight people out of the hall as I was unharmed," said one student, who declined to give his name.
He said there were hundreds of students present at the time of the explosion. The students come from various districts of KP as well as from Balochistan and Afghanistan.
President Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Imran Khan and KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan strongly condemned the bombing and the killing of innocent students in a mosque.
"I want to assure my nation we will ensure the terrorists responsible for this cowardly barbaric attack are brought to justice ASAP," the prime minister tweeted.
The KP chief minister announced a relief package for the victims, including Rs. 500,000 ($3,100) for the families of each of the dead and Rs. 200,000 ($1,240) for each injured person.
No group claimed immediate responsibility. The explosion followed months of relative calm in Pakistan.
Peshawar was once the epicentre of militant violence in the country. Violence has declined in recent years following a series of Pakistani military operations.
In 2014, Pakistan's army launched a massive offensive to wipe out militant bases in the area.
The army stepped up the operation's intensity after the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) killed more than 150 children and teachers at the Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014.
"Peshawar seminary blast has triggered so many memories of the Army Public School attack," tweeted a Karachi-based journalist Sumaira Jajja. "The move to attack youth -- who symbolise a country's hopes and aspirations -- is so cruel and pathetic. How sick are these men who want to wipe out our dreams?"