A suicide bomber in Pakistan killed at least 70 people and wounded at least 112 on Monday in an attack on mourners gathered at a hospital in Quetta, according to Abdul Rehman Miankhel, a senior official at the government-run Civil Hospital, where the explosion occurred. Monday's attack was the worst in Pakistan since an Easter Day bombing ripped through a Lahore park, killing at least 72 people. Jamaat-ur-Ahrar also claimed responsibility for that atrocity.
The bomber struck as a crowd of mostly lawyers and journalists crammed into the emergency department to accompany the body of a prominent lawyer who had been shot and killed in the city earlier in the day, Faridullah, a reporter who was among the wounded, told Reuters. "There are many wounded, so the death toll could rise," said Rehmat Saleh Baloch, the provincial health minister.
Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a faction of the Islamist militant Pakistani Taliban group, claimed responsibility for the attack in an email. Reuters adds that just last week, Jamaat was added to the United States' list of global terrorists, triggering sanctions.
It was not immediately clear if the group had carried out the bombing, as it is believed to have claimed responsibility for attacks in the past that it was not involved in. "The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-ur-Ahrar (TTP-JA) takes responsibility for this attack, and pledges to continue carrying out such attacks," said spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan in the statement. The motive behind the attack was likewise unclear, but several lawyers have been targeted during a recent spate of killings in Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan which has a history of militant and separatist violence.
The latest victim, Bilal Anwar Kasi, was shot and killed while on his way to the city's main court complex, senior police official Nadeem Shah told Reuters. He was the president of Baluchistan Bar Association.
The subsequent suicide attack appeared to target his mourners, Anwar ul Haq Kakar, a spokesman for the Baluchistan government, said. "It seems it was a pre-planned attack," he said.
Ali Zafar, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, told reporters in the eastern city of Lahore:
"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." Police cordoned off the hospital following the blast, with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief General Raheel Sharif paying visits to the wounded on Monday evening.
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Quetta has long been regarded as a base for the Afghan Taliban, whose leadership has regularly held meetings there in the past. In May, Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed by a U.S. drone strike while traveling to Quetta from the Pakistan-Iran border. At the time Pakistan vocally protested against this latest US intervention in Pakistani sovereign affairs, with Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issuing a formal statement protesting the US drone strike that killed Mansour as “a violation of its sovereignty,” and claimed that the prime minister and army chief of staff were only notified after the fact.
Back than Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook, justified America's unexpected intervention in domestic Pakistani affairs, and branded Mansour "an obstacle to peace and reconciliation between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban" and said he was involved in planning attacks that threatened U.S., Afghan and allied forces. At the time, we said that, in an ironic twist, those who actually grasp what is about to happen, completely disagree. Take for example, Michael Kugelman, a senior associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center, who said the strike was unlikely to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table any time soon. In fact, it will likely make the Taliban far less likely to want to sit down and discuss peace.
"The Taliban won't simply meekly agree to talks and especially as this strike could worsen the fragmentation within the organization," he said.
Kugelman said the most important target for the United States remained the top leadership of the Haqqani network, which is allied with the Taliban. Mansour had failed to win over rival factions within the Taliban after formally assuming the helm last year after the Taliban admitted the group's founding leader, Mullah Omar, had been dead for more than two years. It was unclear who Mansour's successor might be. "If Mansour is dead it will provoke a crisis inside the Taliban," said Bruce Riedel, an Afghanistan expert at the Brookings Institution think-tank, who described the U.S. operation in Pakistan as an unprecedented move but cautioned about possible fallout with Pakistan, where Taliban leadership has long been accused of having safe haven.
It appears he was right, and today's event suggest that the latest deadly terrorist attack is once again merely a consequence of US foreign policy meddling in sovereign events, whose downstream consequences it is incapable of grasping.
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Regardless of who is ultimately at fault, television footage showed scenes of chaos at the hospital in Quetta, with panicked people fleeing through debris as smoke filled the hospital corridors. Bodies lay strewn across a hospital courtyard shortly after the blast and pools of blood collected as emergency rescuers rushed to identify survivors.
The blast took place at a hospital in Quetta, Pakistan
The horrific aftermath of the suicide bomb blast
Pakistani volunteers cover the bodies of after the blast
Pakistani security officials and lawyers gather following the attack
An injured man is carried from the scene of the atrocity
Pakistani journalists react after a news cameraman was killed in the explosion
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Finally, the moment of the horridic suicide explosion was caught on tape.