At least 65 people were killed and over 150 others injured when a suicide bomber struck mourners, mostly lawyers and journalists, gathered at a government-run hospital in Pakistan’s restive southwestern Balochistan province in one of the worst attacks in the country this year.
The bomber struck the Civil Hospital in Quetta where the body of president of Balochistan Bar Association (BA) Advocate Bilal Anwar Kasi, who was shot dead earlier in the day, was being brought.
Gunfire followed the explosion. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. However, police said it was a suicide attack where eight kilogrammes of explosives were used.
Television footage showed scenes of chaos, with panicked mourners fleeing through debris as smoke filled the corridors of the hospital’s emergency ward.
A contingent of Frontier Corps and police arrived and cordoned off the hospital following the blast, restricting access to the area.
A loud explosion was heard as lawyers and journalists had gathered at the emergency department where Kasi’s body was brought for autopsy.
Several lawyers have been targeted during a recent spate of killings in Quetta.
Today’s suicide attack appeared to target Kasi’s mourners, 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.
Bomb Disposal Squad officials also confirmed the explosion was a suicide bombing.
As many as 65 people have been killed and over over 150 others were injured in the attack, Haq said, adding the death toll could increase.
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.
A journalist was among the deceased while another was critically injured, according to reports.
“This was a security lapse and I am having this personally investigated,” Balochistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti said.
Panic tore through the hospital after the incident and emergency has been declared at hospitals in Quetta.
The provincial government has 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 bordering Iran and Afghanistan.
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.