A jihadist of the Taliban Islamic terror group blew himself up Monday morning in a hospital in Quetta, the capital of the volatile Balochistan province in southwestern Pakistan, killing at least 70 and wounding 120 more.
The explosion occurred in the midst of a gathering of lawyers and journalists who had met at the hospital to mourn the assassination of a prominent attorney, the president of the local Bar Association, Bilal Anwar Kasi.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, an Islamist faction of the Taliban, claimed responsibility both for the assassination of Kasi and the suicide bombing at the hospital.
Local media reported that the attack took place at the main gate to the emergency area of the hospital, and that most of the victims were fellow lawyers. Witnesses spoke of “bodies everywhere” lying in pools of blood after the blast, while survivors shouted for help amidst the smoke, dust, and broken glass.
A senior official at the hospital, Abdul Rehman Miankhel, earlier estimated that at least 63 people had been killed, while foreseeing that because of the scope of the explosion, the death toll would likely rise.
Bordering both Iran and Afghanistan, the Balochistan province has been rocked in recent years by Islamist attacks, sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and a separatist insurgency. Taliban leaders, now allied with the Islamic State, have used the capital city of Quetta, near the Afghan border, as a strategic base and a hub for trading arms and supplies.
The Pakistani staff army chief, General Raheel Sharif, traveled to Quetta Monday and met some of those wounded at the Quetta Civil Hospital. Sharif expressed his “deep grief and anguish” over the attack, vowing that “no one will be allowed to disturb the peace of the province.”
Syed Ali Zafar, president of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association, described the assault as “an attack on justice,” while the Pakistan Bar Council announced a nationwide lawyers strike on Tuesday.
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