At least 70 people were killed and over 100 others injured today when a Taliban suicide bomber struck mourners, mostly lawyers, gathered at a hospital in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province in one of the deadliest terror attacks in the country this year. The bomber struck over 200 mourners the at the government-run Civil Hospital in Quetta where the body of prominent lawyer Bilal Anwar Kasi, who was shot dead earlier in the day, was being brought. Kasi was the president of Balochistan Bar Association (BA) Advocate.
A loud explosion was heard at the emergency department where Kasi’s body was brought for autopsy. Gunfire followed the explosion. Police said it was a suicide attack where eight kilogrammes of explosives were used.
“No crater found at the site of the attack and it appears the bomber had the explosives strapped to his best,” a police officer said. Bomb Disposal Squad officials also confirmed the explosion was a suicide bombing.
A spokesman for Jamaatul Ahara, a faction of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, said that his faction “accepts responsibility” for the attack in the southwestern city of Quetta and vowed more attacks “until the imposition of an Islamic system in Pakistan”.
The head of the provincial health department said, “The death toll has risen to 70 and there are 112 injured.” Officials said the toll may go up. Television footage showed scenes of chaos, with panicked mourners fleeing through debris as smoke filled the corridors of the hospital’s emergency ward. Many of the victims were clad in the black suit worn by lawyers. A contingent of Frontier Corps and police arrived and cordoned off the hospital following the blast, restricting access to the area.
“Today’s suicide attack appeared to target Kasi’s supporters,” Anwar ul Haq, a spokesman for the Baluchistan government, said. It is the second deadliest in Pakistan this year so far, after a bombing in a crowded park in Lahore over Easter killed 75.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Mamnoon Hussain strongly condemned the attack. Sharif ordered the provincial government to arrest the culprits.
“No one will be allowed to disrupt the peace of the province,” Sharif said. He cancelled all prior commitments and visited Quetta. Two journalists were among the deceased, according to reports.
“This was a security lapse and I am having this personally investigated,” Balochistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti said. He described the attack as an “act of terrorism.” Bugti said the impact of the explosion was strong that scores of vehicles and motorbikes that were around the hospital were destroyed.
Panic tore through the hospital after the incident and emergency has been declared at hospitals in Quetta. The provincial government announced three-day mourning during which Pakistan’s National Flag will remain at half mast on government buildings. Social networking site Facebook activated its “safety check” feature after the blast in the provincial capital.
Officials said mobile phone jammers had been activated around hospitals in the area. Quetta has also long been regarded as a base for the Afghan Taliban. In May, Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed by a US drone strike while travelling to Quetta from the Pakistan-Iran border.
Pakistan’s army chief Raheel Sharif said that all necessary steps would be taken to defeat militancy in the country as he chaired security meeting in Quetta. He said that attack was an attempt to undermine improved security in Balochistan. He said it was attempt to target China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
“All resources to be employed to control situation,” he said.