QUETTA: At least 70 people were killed and over 100 others wounded in a suicide bombing on Monday at the emergency ward of Quetta’s Civil Hospital, where scores of people had gathered to mourn the death of Balochistan Bar Association (BBA) president Bilal Anwar Kasi in a gun attack earlier in the day.
The Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the targeted killing of Advocate Kasi and the subsequent blast.
The militant Islamic State group also claimed responsibility for the suicide attack, Reuters quoted the IS’s Amaq news agency as saying. “A martyr from the Islamic State detonated his explosive belt at a gathering of justice ministry employees and Pakistani policemen in…Quetta,” the Amaq report said released from Cairo, Egypt.
Law enforcement officials believed that the two attacks were connected and the blast was carried out by a suicide bomber.
They said that the body of Mr Kasi, who was shot dead by two armed assailants, was brought to the Civil Hospital and a number of his friends, colleagues and relatives as well as a posse of press photographers and television cameramen also reached there as soon as they got the news.
Fifty-five of the 70 dead were lawyers, including BBA’s former president Baz Muhammad Kakar, former Supreme Court Bar Association vice president Syed Qahir Shah, Advocate Sangat Jamaldani, son of Balochistan National Party-Mengal secretary general Jahanzeb Jamaldani, and Advocate Dawood Lasi, son of former federal minister Dr Abdul Malik Kasi.
As the number of mourners increased, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance of the emergency department, killing scores of people.
Two cameramen — Shahzad Khan and Mehmood Khan— working for Aaj TV and DawnNews, respectively, were also killed.
Witnesses said that there was complete chaos at the hospital as bodies lay on the ground, some still giving off smoke, among pools of blood and shattered glass.
Shocked survivors were seen fleeing through debris, some crying and comforting one another, as smoke filled the hospital corridors.
Witness Waliur Rehman said he was taking his ailing father to the emergency ward when the explosion shook the building, knocking them both to the ground.
Another witness, Advocate Abdul Latif, said he arrived at the hospital to express his grief over Mr Kasi’s killing. But he said he did not know he would “see the bodies of dozens of other lawyers there”.
A state of emergency was declared in hospitals across Quetta and several wounded were shifted to other hospitals.
The medical superintendent of the Civil Hospital, Abdul Rehman Miankhel, told Dawn that 70 people were killed and 112 others wounded in the blast. He said that 102 of the wounded were admitted to the Combined Military Hospital and 10 were shifted to the Bolan Medical College Hospital.
Late at night, 27 wounded arrived in Karachi from Quetta in a military aircraft that landed at the PAF Faisal Base. They were shifted to the Aga Khan University Hospita.
The blast was so powerful that it was heard from afar.
Balochistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti confirmed that it was a suicide attack. He said that the bomber was wearing a suicide vest packed with eight kilograms of explosives and laced with ball bearings and shrapnel.
“They earlier killed the president of the Balochistan Bar Association and when his body was brought to the hospital they carried out a suicide blast to target the lawyers’ community,” he added.
He said that the negligence of security personnel deployed for hospital security would not be forgiven.
A senior police officer said that the severed head of the suicide bomber was found at the blast site late in the evening.
About Advocate Kasi’s killing, SSP-Investigation Zahoor Afridi said that armed motorcyclists fired 10 shots at the lawyer’s car at Mano Jan Road area, killing him on the spot.
While Jamaat-ul-Ahrar spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed in a statement the responsibility of both incidents and vowed more attacks “until the imposition of an Islamic system in Pakistan”, Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri in his initial response hinted at the involvement of Indian intelligence agency RAW.
“RAW’s involvement could not be ruled out in the suicide attack as it conducted such attacks in Quetta and other areas,” he said.
Meanwhile, Supreme Court Bar Association President Ali Zafar told reporters in Lahore that the lawyers will observe a three-day of mourning and will not appear in courts. “We [lawyers] have been targeted because we always raise our voice for people’s rights and for democracy…Lawyers will not just protest this attack but also prepare a long-term plan of action.”
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