Islamabad: At least 53 people were killed on Monday when a powerful blast hit a hospital in Quetta in Pakistan when dozens of lawyers were entering it with the body of lawyer killed earlier, officials said.
Around 30 people were also injured in the deafening explosion in the Civil Hospital. Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri blamed the Indian intelligence agency RAW for incidents of terrorism in Quetta.
The explosion occurred when lawyers and some journalists had gathered at the hospital with the body of Bilal Anwar Kasi, president of the Balochistan Bar Association who was shot dead earlier in the day, media reports said.
Zehri said it appeared to be a suicide attack but police said they were still investigating. His comments about the RAW link came even before the police could say who was responsible for the horrific attack.
Police officer Zahoor Ahmed Afridi said most of the dead were lawyers. Several lawyers, including Baz Mohammad Kakar, the former president of the Balochistan Bar Association, were injured, Dawn reported.
A stampede broke out after the bombing, causing chaos at the hospital, officials and witnesses said. No one claimed responsibility for the blast.
Gunfire was heard shortly after the explosion. Shahzad Khan, a cameraman with Aaj TV, was killed in the explosion while the cameraman for Dawn News was severely injured, Dawn said.
Police surrounded the hospital and cordoned off the area. An emergency was declared in Quetta hospitals as many of the injured were shifted to them.
“This was a security lapse and I am having this personally investigated,” Balochistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti said.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the blast and expressed his “deep grief and anguish over the loss of precious human lives”.
“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 Balochistan,” he said in a statement.
Former Chief Minister Abdul Malik called it the “blackest day” in the history of Balochistan.
Lawyers have been targeted several times in recent months in Balochistan.
A lawyer, Jahanzeb Alvi, was shot dead on August 3. Bilal Kasi, who himself was shot dead on Monday, had condemned Alvi’s murder and announced a two-day boycott of courts.
The principal of University of Balochistan’s law college, Barrister Amanullah Achakzai, was also shot dead by unknown assailants here in June.
Balochistan has experienced violence and targeted killings for more than a decade.
More than 1,400 incidents targeting Shia and Hazara community members have also taken place in the province during the past 15 years.
Pakistan’s largest province by area, Balochistan is home to a low-level insurgency by Baloch separatists. Al Qaeda-linked and sectarian militants also operate in the region.
Balochistan shares borders with Afghanistan and Iran. Pakistani officials routinely accuse RAW of fomenting trouble in the province.