A suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest amid mourners gathered at a hospital in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta on Monday, killing 63 people and injuring dozens more in one of the deadliest terror attacks in recent years.
The bomber struck as more than 100 mourners, mostly lawyers and journalists, crowded into the emergency department of the Civil Hospital to accompany the body of Balochistan Bar Association president Bilal Anwar Kasi, who was shot and killed by two unidentified gunmen while on his way to Quetta’s main court complex.
Senior police officer Zahoor Ahmed Afridi said bomb disposal experts had informed him that the attacker’s remains had been found at the scene.
The motive behind the attack was unclear and no group claimed responsibility for the bombing. Reports suggested the Khorasan branch of the Islamic State had claimed the attack but this could not be independently confirmed.
The toll made the attack the second deadliest in Pakistan this year, after a bombing in a crowded park in Lahore over Easter killed 75.
Two journalists – Dawn News cameraman Mahmood Khan and Shahzad Khan, a cameraman associated with Aaj TV – were killed by the blast.
Abdul Rehman, the director of Quetta’s Civil Hospital, said 92 injured people were being treated at the state-run hospital. He said most of the victims were lawyers.
Ali Zafar, the top leader of Pakistan’s main lawyers’ association, denounced the bombing as “an attack on justice”. He said lawyers across the country will observe three days of mourning and stay away from court appointments to express solidarity with those killed.
“There are many wounded, so the death toll could rise,” said Rehmat Saleh Baloch, Balochistan’s health minister.
Television footage showed scenes of chaos, with panicked people fleeing through debris as smoke filled the hospital corridors. The footage also showed bodies strewn on the ground, some still smoking, amid pools of blood and shattered glass.
Many of the dead were wearing the trademark black suits and ties of lawyers. A large burn mark against white brick appeared to indicate where the bomb went off.
Police cordoned off the Civil Hospital after the blast and the military was deployed in and around Quetta’s hospitals.
Anwar ul Haq Kakar, a spokesman for the Balochistan government, said: “It seems it was a pre-planned attack.”
Balochistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, has major oil and gas resources but is afflicted by Islamist militancy, sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias and a long-running separatist insurgency.
Quetta has long been regarded as a base for the Afghan Taliban, whose leadership regularly held meetings there in the past. In May, Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed by a US drone strike while travelling to Quetta from the border with Iran.