Quetta - At least 70 people were killed and over 100 others injured yesterday in Quetta, as dark forces of terrorism targeted custodians of justice days before Pakistanis were going to celebrate the Independence Day.

A suicide bomber unleashed hell outside Quetta’s Civil Hospital where some 200 people, mostly lawyers, had crowded into the emergency department to accompany the body of Balochistan Bar Association (BBA) President Bilal Anwar Kasi – who had been shot and killed in the city earlier in the day.

Some media personnel, who were there to cover the gathering, were also among the victims. Shehzad Ahmed Khan, a cameraman associated with Aaj TV, was killed in the blast. A cameraman for DawnNews, Mahmood Khan, was severely injured in the explosion and he later passed away.

Police said that unknown men also opened fire after the blast targeting the black coats.

A photograph shortly after the blast showed bodies of dead and injured strewn on the ground among pools of blood and shattered glass. A large burn mark against white brick wall appeared to indicate the very spot where the explosion occurred, just outside the building housing the Emergency Ward.

Television footage showed shocked survivors crying and comforting one another. There were also scenes of chaos inside the hospital, with panicked people fleeing through debris as smoke from the powerful bomb filled the hospital corridors too.

“The death toll has risen to 70 and there are 112 injured,” the head of the provincial health department, Dr Masood Nausherwani, told reporters.

“There are many wounded, so the death toll could rise,” said Rehmat Saleh Baloch, the provincial health minister. Former BBA president Baz Mohammad Kakar too was reported to have been injured.

Waqt News reporter in Quetta Wattan Yar said police had confirmed it was a suicide attack. “The bomber had strapped some eight kilograms (18 pounds) of explosives packed with ball bearings and shrapnel on his body,” bomb disposal unit chief Abdul Razzaq said.

“There were huge black clouds and dirt,” said an AFP journalist, who was just 20 metres away when the bomb went off.

“I ran back to the place and saw dead bodies scattered everywhere and many injured people crying. There were pools and pools of blood around and pieces of human bodies and flesh.”

Nurses and lawyers wept as medics from inside the hospital rushed out to help dozens of injured, he said. “People were beating their heads, crying and mourning. They were in shock and grief.”

Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a splinter of banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed the responsibility for the bombing, wowing to continue carrying out such attacks “until the imposition of an Islamic system in Pakistan”.

“We will (also) release a video report on this (incident) soon,” Jamaat-ur-Ahrar (JuA) spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said in an email.

The Islamic State group, which has no proven presence in Pakistan, also claimed it was behind the Quetta bombing.

“A martyrdom bomber of the Islamic State detonates his explosive belt on a group of personnel belonging to the Ministry of Justice and the Pakistani Police in the city of Quetta,” the IS-linked Amaq news agency said.

Police and paramilitary forces cordoned off the hospital and surrounding area following the blast, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief General Raheel Sharif paid visits to the wounded.

Officials said mobile phone jammers had been activated around hospitals in the area – a regular precaution after an attack – making it hard to contact officers on the ground to get updated information.

Pervez Masi, who was injured by pieces of flying glass, said the Monday’s blast was so powerful that “we didn’t know what had happened”. “So many friends were martyred,” he said. “Whoever is doing this is not human, he is a beast and has no humanity.”

Several lawyers have been targeted during a recent spate of killings in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan where army and law enforcement agencies have gained visible against the religious militancy and separatist violence.

The latest victim, BBA President Bilal Anwar Kasi, was shot and killed while on his way to the city’s main court complex, senior police official Nadeem Shah said.

“It seems it was a pre-planned attack” to target the mourners of Kasi, provincial government spokesman Anwarul Haq Kakar said about the subsequent suicide attack.

The Balochistan Bar Council announced three-day mourning across the province. Barrister Ali Zafar, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, also told reporters in Lahore, “We are announcing three days of mourning and demand justice and protection.”

He said, “We (lawyers) have been targeted because we always raise our voice for people’s rights and for democracy... Lawyers will not just protest this attack but also prepare a long-term plan of action.”

Emergency was declared in all hospitals of Quetta following the Civil Hospital bombing. MS Bolan Medical Complex administrator Ayub Kakar said, “There are 30 people who are critically injured and under treatment. They are injured in the stomach and head, due to pallets after the explosion. All those who had minor injuries have been discharged after treatment.”

According to a tweet by army’s media wing -ISPR, two seriously injured persons were evacuated to Karachi while 20 others were being taken on military planes to various hospitals in different cities.

‘No presence of IS, TTP’

Balochistan Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti denied presence of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Daesh (IS) in Balochistan and said Indian and Afghan Intelligence agencies execute terrorist attacks through local dissidents.

“There is no physical presence of TTP in Balochistan, there is no Daesh. Terrorist attacks in Balochistan are executed by Indian Intelligence Agency Raw and Afghan intelligence agency NDS, using TTP (elements) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi,” he said in a private news channel programme.

Bugti explained there are handlers of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in Afghanistan that hire the perpetrators and execute their actions through TTP.

“TTP provides them with suicide bombers. They can be their facilitators or sympathisers to execute terrorist attacks.”

Quoting three recent terrorist attacks – firing on police protecting polio workers and attacks at Khalid Aviation Base and FC convoy –, he said there are proofs of linkages of these attackers with elements in Afghanistan.

“They were handled by RAW and NDS from Afghanistan. TTP-RAW-NDS nexus is hidden to no one. The organisation that accepted responsibility for Monday’s attack in Quetta is also an offshoot of TTP and has linkages with RAW. RAW has been and is also responsible for the present attack,” he claimed.