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70 martyred as lawyers targeted in Quetta hospital

By our correspondents
August 09, 2016

Suicide bomber strikes as over 100 mourners crowd into emergency ward to accompany the body of Balochistan Bar Association President Bilal Kasi; toll likely to rise; two journalists among killed, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claims responsibility; 8kg explosive used in bombing; Nawaz says children of martyrs are his children and terrorists will be hunted down; General Raheel asks intelligence agencies to initiate special combing operations; PM and COAS say enemies of Pakistan are after CPEC; Balochistan CM says RAW involved

QUETTA: A suicide bomber killed at least 70 people and wounded dozens more in an attack on mourners who had gathered at the state-run Civil Hospital here on Monday.

The bomber struck as more than 100 mourners, mostly lawyers and journalists, crowded into the emergency department to accompany the body of Balochistan Bar Association President Bilal Kasi, who had been shot and killed in the city earlier in the day.

A senior hospital official, Abdur Rehman Miankhel, told reporters that at least 70 people had been killed, with more than 100 wounded, as the casualty toll spiked from initial estimates.“There are many wounded, so the death toll could rise,” Balochistan Health Minister Rehmat Saleh Baloch said.

Baloch declared high alert in the government hospitals after the blast and directed all medical superintendents of public sector hospitals to cancel the leaves of doctors and other staff.

Television footage showed scenes of chaos, with panicked people fleeing through the debris as smoke filled the hospital corridors.

The latest victim, Bilal Anwar Kasi, was shot and killed when he was on his way to the city’s main court complex, senior police official Nadeem Shah told Reuters. He was President Balochistan Bar Association.

In a statement, Ahsanullah Ahsan, spokesman for Jamaat-ul-Ahrar militant group, claimed responsibility for the killing of Bilal Kasi and suicide bombing. He vowed more attacks “until imposition of an Islamic system in Pakistan”.

Kasi was among the most outspoken lawyers in the province and was popular for campaigning for improvements in the legal community.The subsequent suicide attack appeared to target his mourners, Anwarul Haq Kakar, a spokesman for the Balochistan government, said. “It seems it was a pre-planned attack,” he said.

Police cordoned off the hospital following the blast.Two journalists have also been identified among the dead — Shahzad Khan, a cameraman for Aaj TV, and Mehmood Khan, a cameraman for DawnNews.

Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zahri on Monday said Indian spy agency RAW was involved in the suicide attack.

“I have proofs about RAW’s involvement in Quetta bombing. RAW is directly involved in this incident,” he said while talking to a private news channel.

He said terrorists were poised to launch more such activities in the province. “They are even attacking hospitals and killing innocent people. We shall track them down and bring them to justice,” he said.

He condemned the incident and reiterated to employ all resources for strict action against anti-state elements and deal them with an iron hand.

Sarfaraz Bugti, the provincial interior minister, denounced the attack as an “act of terrorism”.

A foreign news agency journalist was about 20 metres away when the bomb went off. “There were huge black clouds and dirt; 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,” he said.

He said nurses and lawyers wept as medics from inside the hospital rushed out to help the wounded.“People were beating their heads, crying and mourning. They were in shock and grief.”

Those in their death throes were seen reciting the Kalama Tayyaba.Pervez Masih, who was injured by pieces of flying glass, said the 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.”Police confirmed the attack was a suicide blast.

“The bomber had strapped some eight kilograms of explosives packed with ball bearings and shrapnel on his body,” bomb disposal unit chief Abdul Razzaq told AFP.Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif chaired an emergency meeting here at the Governor’s Secretariat wherein he was briefed on the situation.

The meeting was attended by Chief of the Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, Balochistan Governor Muhammad Khan Achakzai, Chief Minister Sanaullah Zahri, Commander Southern Command Lt General Amir Riaz, Director General ISPR Lt. Gen Asim Bajwa, PM’s National Security Adviser Nasser Khan Janjua, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, DG Military Operations and DG Military Intelligence.

Nawaz said the children of martyred lawyers and journalists were his children and the nation will hunt down terrorists throughout the country. “Terrorists are using innovative measures by hitting soft targets and one must respond in an advanced coordinated way,” he said while chairing an emergency meeting here at the Governor’s Secretariat wherein he was briefed on the situation.

Chief Secretary Balochistan Saifullah Chatha briefed the prime minister on the situation.Nawaz said all state security institutions must respond with full might to eliminate terrorists. He said the last three years had seen an improvement in restoration of peace in Balochistan and this sad incident could not affect the resolve of the nation.

“No doubt in my mind that the enemies of Pakistan are after CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor),” he added.He said the army under the leadership of COAS was doing a commendable job to neutralise the security threat towards CPEC.

He said the federal and provincial governments would shift resources to augment the capacity of the Frontier Constabulary (FC) and the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD).The prime minister said: “We will address the international terror threats through maximum effort. We will make a functional mechanism of federal provincial law enforcement and intelligence agencies. We will support this framework with available resources.”

Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif also chaired a high-level security meeting following the bombing and ordered the intelligence agencies to initiate special combing operations to target those involved in terror attacks, said a tweet by military’s spokesperson.

The army chief chaired the meeting with the Balochistan chief minister, provincial chief secretary and commander Southern Command in attendance.The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) quoted the army chief as saying that after their defeat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, terrorists were shifting their focus to Balochistan. The attack is an attempt to undermine the improved security situation of Balochistan and the effort is specially targeting the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), added the ISPR.

All resources will be employed to control the situation, read another tweet.The COAS ordered intelligence agencies to go anywhere in the country to target anyone linked with these terror acts.

General Raheel also visited the injured at the Civil Hospital, Quetta. Critically-injured individuals were also shifted to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH).The ISPR added the injured were being evacuated to various hospitals across the country.

On instructions of Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, the Pakistan Air Force has dedicated a C-130 aircraft as air ambulance to shift the injured to Karachi.Meanwhile, journalists on Monday staged a protest to strongly condemn the Civil Hospital bombing.

The demonstration was jointly organised by the Rawalpindi Islamabad Union of Journalists (RIUJ) and the National Press Club (NPC) in which journalists condemned terrorism and demanded that the government should protect people, including media persons who had been continuously sacrificing their lives in the ongoing war on terror.