A young Taliban suicide bomber on Tuesday blew himself up outside a crowded government office in Pakistan's restive northwest, killing at least 26 people and injuring nearly 60 others, in one of the deadliest attacks since the Peshawar school carnage that left over 150 dead.
The motorcycle-borne bomber blew himself up when a security guard stopped him outside the office of the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) - which regulates the government's database and manages the sensitive registration database for the entire population of Pakistan - in Mardan town of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, officials said.
"At least 26 people have been killed and more than 50 injured," said provincial information minister Mushtaq Ghani.
"If the attacker had not been stopped by a security guard at the office's gate, the death toll would be significantly higher," Mardan police Deputy Inspector General Saeed Wazir said.
Up to 12 kilogrammes of explosive material may have been used in the blast that caused extensive damage to the office building, he said. The powerful explosion also shattered windows of several vehicles parked near the building.
Wazir said the bomber was in the 22-25 age group. The attack took place at a time when some 400 people were present in the office which remains crowded most of the time. Human body parts were seen strewn across the blast site.
The injured, several of them critical, were shifted to Mardan Medical Complex, Peshawar hospital and other facilities in the city, where a state of emergency has been declared. The area has been cordoned off as rescue and security officials rushed to the site. The interior ministry has sought an immediate report on the blast.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the attack and expressed deep grief over the loss of innocent lives.
Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for today's attack, saying it carried out the attack on the "heathen Pakistan state". The same outfit was also behind last year's Wagah border blast that left over 60 people dead.
Today's bombing is one of the deadliest since a security crackdown following the Peshawar school massacre last year that saw 150 people, mostly schoolchildren, killed by the Taliban (See: Peshawar in tears, Pak in mourning after Taliban kills 132 kids)