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Hospital Bombing in Pakistan Targeted Lawyers, Killed 70

Taliban faction has claimed responsibility for the blast in Quetta, Pakistan

The bombing targeted lawyers who had gathered at the hospital to mourn their murdered colleague. (Photo: Reuters/Naseer Ahmed)

A suicide bomber killed at least 70 people and wounded more than a hundred in Quetta, Pakistan, on Monday.

"There are many wounded, so the death toll could rise," said Rehmat Saleh Baloch, the provincial health minister, to Reuters.

Many of those killed were lawyers who had gathered at the hospital "after the body of their colleague, prominent attorney Bilal Kasi was brought there," Associated Press (AP) reports.

"As they protested [Kasi's] killing," the New York Times writes, "a powerful blast ripped through the entrance to the hospital's emergency department, leading to widespread panic. Television footage showed scores of lawyers running for cover as gunfire echoed in the background."

The Times described the chaotic scene:

Some lawyers could be seen pushing a stretcher bearing a wounded colleague, as others urged them to safety. "Get inside, get inside," one lawyer could be heard saying, waving, as others rushed into the hospital building. Two cameramen working for two local news networks were among those killed.

The bombing left a trail of destruction. The charred bodies of victims lay in pools of blood. Several vehicles parked nearby were damaged, and windows in nearby buildings were shattered.

AP notes that "Kasi, the chief of the province's bar association, was shot and killed by gunmen earlier on Monday as he was on his way to his office," adding:

The lawyers gathered at the Quetta Civil Hospital to express their grief as is common with public figures. Kasi was among the most outspoken lawyers in the province and was popular for campaigning for improvements in the lawyers' community.

"It was a suicide attack," said Zahoor Ahmed Afridi, a senior police officer. Afridi said the attacker hit shortly after Kasi's body was brought in and that it seemed the two events were connected.

The president of the Quetta Press Club told the wire service that two journalists were also killed.

Anwar Kakar, the official spokesman for the government of Baluchistan, told NBC: "This doesn't look like the action of insurgent separatists, rather religious extremists. Their only cause is to create fear. Not fear of God. Just fear of living."

A "breakaway faction" of the Taliban in Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack, according to AP:

In a statement, Ahsanullah Ahsan, spokesman for Jamaat-ul-Ahrar militant group, also said their men killed Bilal Kasi, the president of Baluchistan Bar Association, and then targeted the mourners who had gathered at the government-run Civil Hospital. The group has been behind several acts of terrorism in Pakistan in recent years. The claim could not be independently verified.

The New York Times provided context for the violence, noting that "Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan, a province bordering Afghanistan and Iran that has experienced separatist and sectarian violence for more than a decade, posing a challenge to successive Pakistani governments. Most of the violence in Quetta has been sectarian in nature, mainly directed toward the Hazaras, a Shiite Muslim minority."

AP reports: "Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the blast and expressed his 'deep grief and anguish over the loss of precious human lives' in the attack."

"The Pakistani Bar Association said lawyers across the country would hold a one-day strike on Tuesday and would spend a week in mourning," adds the New York Times.

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