KUWAIT CITY: A suicide bomber struck a Shia mosque in the Kuwaiti capital during Friday prayers, killing at least 25 people and wounding many in an unprecedented attack claimed by the Islamic State group.
Kuwait's interior ministry said in a statement cited by the official KUNA news agency that hundreds were wounded in the mosque explosion.
"Twenty-five people have been martyred and 202 others wounded as a result of the blast at Al-Imam Al-Sadeq Mosque," the interior ministry statement said.
It called the attack a "terrorist bombing" and said it will provide more details later.
The wounded were admitted to five public hospitals and were visited by Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Mubarak Al-Sabah.
IS claimed Friday's assault, the first bombing of a Shia mosque in Kuwait and also the first "terror" attack in the Gulf state since January 2006.
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The IS-affiliated group in Saudi Arabia, calling itself Najd Province, said militant Abu Suleiman al-Muwahhid bombed the mosque which it claimed was spreading Shia teachings among Sunni Muslims.
IS, an extremist group, considers Shiites to be heretics.
The Najd Province group has claimed similar bombings at Shia mosques in Saudi Arabia in recent weeks.
A security official said "it is a suicide bombing".
Witnesses also said a suicide bomber entered the mosque during the weekly noon prayers.
The top cleric at the mosque, Abdullah al-Mazeedi, told KUNA the bombing targeted the rear rows of worshippers who numbered around 2,000 altogether.
Read: 20 killed as suicide bomber strikes Shia mosque in Saudi Arabia
He said the blast damaged the interior and caused several chandeliers to fall.
The emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, immediately visited the site, and footage on state-run showed him visibly moved by the scenes of carnage.
He later said that the "criminal attack is a desperate and evil attempt targeting Kuwait's national unity".
The channel broadcast footage of the destruction, and people posted online horrific pictures of the dead and wounded.
Kuwait's cabinet went into emergency session as the interior ministry raised the alert level and mobilised all security forces.
A number of hospitals in the oil-rich emirate declared states of emergency to deal with the wounded, and the central blood bank appealed for donations.
Kuwaiti Shias make up around one third of the country's native population of 1.3 million people.
The interior ministry said it has launched a full investigation into the incident.
Three weeks ago, the ministry said it had raised the level of security around mosques following the bombings in neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
Friday's attack was widely condemned.
Parliament speaker Marzouk al-Ghanem described the attack as "black terror", adding that the unity of Kuwaitis would foil any plot.
The two mainstream Sunni groups, the Islamic Constitutional Movement (ICM) and the Islamic Salaf Alliance, denounced the attack.
The ICM, political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, decried the bombing as a "low criminal attack targeting the mosque".
A statement from the second group said: "The Islamic Salaf Alliance strongly deplores this heinous crime which is carried out only by traitors."
Kuwait's leading Sunni cleric, Sheikh Ajeel al-Nashmi, said on Twitter that the bombing was a "criminal act aimed at sowing seeds of discord, and undoubtedly Shia and Sunnis will foil the terrorists' plot".
Read: IS group in Saudi urges more attacks against Shias
Independent MP Sultan al-Shemmari called on the government to "hit the terrorists with an iron fist".
Over the past few weeks, Kuwaiti courts have tried a number of people on charges of belonging to IS and sentenced at least one to several years in jail.
Several countries and organisations deplored the bombing.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that "terrorist gangs are a threat to all, and countries in the region and the world must seriously contribute to fighting them".
Iran said "terrorist" attacks are the main threat to regional security and stability.
The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), to which Kuwait belongs, called the attack an attempt to undermine national unity and stability of its members.
There was also condemnation from Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Russia and Spain among others.