A breakaway faction of the Taliban in Pakistan has claimed responsibility for the suicide attack at a hospital in the southwestern city of Quetta, which killed at least 70 people, according to the Associated Press.
In a statement, Ahsanullah Ahsan, spokesman for the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar militant group, also said its men killed Bilal Kasi, the president of Baluchistan Bar Assn., and then targeted the mourners who had gathered at the government-run Civil Hospital. The group has been behind several acts of terrorism in Pakistan in recent years. The claim could not be independently verified.
Most of the victims were lawyers who had gathered in the emergency ward of Sundayman Civil Hospital to mourn Bilal Anwar Kasi, president of the provincial bar association, who was shot hours earlier on his way to court.
A television journalist was also among the dead, while two cameramen were among the more than 40 people who were injured, many of them critically, officials said.
“A number of lawyers and some journalists had gathered at the hospital,” where Kasi’s body had been brought, said Baluchistan’s home minister, Akbar Harifal.
Witnesses said dozens of lawyers were entering the hospital’s emergency department, accompanying Kasi’s body, when the powerful explosion occurred.
Saleem Shahid, a senior journalist, said by phone from Quetta that lawyers were seen fleeing the emergency department after the explosion.
Baluchistan, a large, resource-rich though largely undeveloped province in southwestern Pakistan, along the border with Iran, has been hit by a long, low-level insurgency by an array of ethnic Baluch nationalist organizations vying for self-determination.
The militant groups regularly attack trains, security forces and government installations, including hospitals in Baluchistan.
They accuse Pakistani security forces of illegal detentions, torture and executions of Baluch civilians, charges the government denies.
Following the blast, the Pakistani government declared a state of emergency in hospitals, while lawyers called a boycott of court proceedings in various cities nationwide.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issued a statement condemning the attack.
“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 Baluchistan,” Sharif said.