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The Jamaatul Ahara faction of the Pakistani Taliban said it “accepted responsibility” for the attack in the southwestern city of Quetta, and vowed more attacks “until the imposition of an Islamic system in Pakistan”.
Later, the IS group said through its Amaq news agency that “a martyr from the Islamic State detonated his explosive belt at a gathering of justice ministry employees and Pakistani policemen in the city of Quetta,”
The explosion took place shortly after the body of a prominent lawyer, who was gunned down in an attack earlier in the day, was brought to the hospital, said senior police official Zahoor Ahmed Afridi.
It remains unclear if the two events were in any way connected.
Nearly 100 lawyers and others had gathered at the hospital at the time to express grief over the death of their colleague, Afridi added.
The blast struck at the gates of the building housing the emergency ward, where dozens of lawyers had gathered to mourn the killing of Bilal Kasi, the senior lawyer gunned down on his way to work earlier Monday.
One of those who survived the bombing described a horrifying scene, saying there were “bodies everywhere” after the blast. Waliur Rehman said he was taking his ailing father to the emergency ward when the explosion shook the building. The blast was so powerful that they both fell down, he said.
When he looked up, Rehman said he saw dead bodies and the wounded crying out for help. He was about 200 metres (yards) away from where the epicentre of the bomb, he added.
Another witness, lawyer Abdul Latif, said he was at the hospital to pay his respects following Kasi’s murder. Latif described “seeing the bodies of dozens of other lawyers” killed and wounded shortly after arriving at the hospital.
Sanaullah Zehri, chief minister in Baluchistan province, said both the bombing and Kasi’s slaying seemed to be part of a plot to disrupt peace in the provincial capital.
Sarfraz Bugti, the provincial interior minister, denounced the attack as an “act of terrorism.” A Pakistani news channel reported that one of its cameramen was also killed in the blast.
‘Grief and anguish’
Local TV stations broadcast footage showing people running in panic around the hospital grounds. Afridi said most of the dead were lawyers who had gathered after Kasi’s body was brought to the hospital.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the blast in Quetta and expressed his “deep grief and anguish over the loss of precious human lives” in the attack, in which several senior lawyers were also killed.
“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,” he said in a statement. Sharif asked the local authorities to maintain utmost vigilance and beef up security in Quetta.
He also instructed health officials to provide the best treatment possible to those wounded in the attack.
In a statement, French President François Hollande called the bombing an “abominable act” and “expressed France’s solidarity with the Pakistani people”.
Quetta is the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, which has long been hit by insurgency. There are several ethnic Baluch separatist groups operating in the resource-rich province, but al-Qaida and other militant groups also have a presence there.