Islamabad– A powerful blast ripped through a crowd in a Quetta hospital on Monday killing 63 people, mainly lawyers, in one of the worst terror attacks in Pakistan this year, officials said.
Balochistan Health Minister Rehmat Baloch had earlier told ARY News that 93 people had died. But he clarified later that the death toll stood at 63 and that the others had been injured, many grievously.
Doctors warned that the death toll could rise.
The deafening blast, heard clearly on video, took place in the emergency ward of the Civil Hospital when nearly 100 lawyers had gathered to collect the body of a lawyer shot dead hours earlier.
Baloch said a suicide bomber carried out the carnage. A bomb disposal squad said the bomber had eight to 10 kg of explosives hidden in his vest, Xinhua news agency said. Police found the limbs of the bomber.
ARY News said the dead included 25 lawyers and two journalists, including Aaj TV cameraman Shehzad Khan, who could be heard clearly on the camera reciting the “Kalma” in a groaning voice as he died.
As Balochistan, Pakistan’s biggest province by area, declared three days of mourning, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif flew to Quetta. Army chief Raheel Sharif visited the injured in the Civil Hospital.
Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri blamed the Indian intelligence agency RAW, saying it was responsible for incidents of terror in Quetta.
His comments came even before the police could say who was responsible for the horrific attack.
The lawyers were at the hospital in large numbers to collect the body of Bilal Anwar Kasi, the president of the Balochistan Bar Association who was killed earlier in the city.
Several lawyers, including Baz Mohammad Kakar, the former president of the Balochistan Bar Association, were injured, Dawn reported.
Gunfire erupted after the explosion.
A stampede broke out after the bombing, causing chaos at the hospital, media reports said. Smoke filled the corridors of the emergency ward while lawyers rushed into the hospital with stretchers to help the wounded.
Samaa TV said bodies were strewn on the floor, some still smoking, “amid pools of blood and shattered glass”.
Shocked survivors wept and comforted one another. Many of the dead were dressed in black suits and ties.
Police surrounded the hospital and an emergency was declared in all Quetta hospitals.
“This was a security lapse and I am having this personally investigated,” Balochistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti said.
Prime Minister Sharif condemned the killings and expressed his “deep grief and anguish over the loss of precious human lives”.
“No one will be allowed to disturb the peace in the province that has been restored thanks to the countless sacrifices by the security forces, police and the people of Balochistan,” he said.
Former Chief Minister Abdul Malik called it the “blackest day” in the history of Balochistan.
It was the worst terrorist attack in Pakistan this year since the March 27 bombing at Gulshan-e-Iqbal park in Lahore that left 75 people dead.
Lawyers across Pakistan denounced the bloodbath in Quetta. Lawyers in Karachi boycotted the courts. The Bar Association of Pakistan called for a three-day mourning.
Lawyers have been frequently targeted in Balochistan.
One lawyer, Jahanzeb Alvi, was shot dead on August 3. Bilal Kasi, who himself was shot dead on Monday, had condemned Alvi’s murder and announced a two-day boycott of courts.
The principal of University of Balochistan’s law college, Barrister Amanullah Achakzai, was also shot dead in June.
Balochistan has experienced violence and targeted killings for more than a decade.
Balochistan is home to a low-level insurgency by Baloch separatists. Al Qaeda-linked and sectarian militants also operate in the region. Islamabad routinely blames New Delhi for the unrest in Balochistan.