QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — A huge bomb went off on the grounds of a government-run hospital in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta on Monday, killing at least 63 people and wounding dozens, police said.
Witnesses described horrifying scenes of bodies being scattered about and the wounded screaming out and crying for help. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the blast.
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 was 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.
Police and Pakistani officials said the attack appeared to have been a suicide bombing but there was no immediate confirmation of that detail.
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 bodies of the dead and the wounding crying out for help. He was about 200 meters (yards) away from where the bomb struck, he added.
Another witness, lawyer Abdul Latif, said he arrived at the hospital to express his grief over Kasi’s killing. But he said he didn’t know he would “see 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.
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.
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.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.