QUETTA • A suicide bomb packed with ball bearings tore through a Pakistani hospital yesterday, killing at least 70 people, in an attack claimed by the Pakistani Taleban faction Jamaat-ur-Ahrar.
"The Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan Jamaat-ur-Ahrar takes responsibility for this attack, and pledges to continue carrying out such attacks," spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said in an e-mail to Reuters.
The Islamist group also carried out the Easter Day bombing in the eastern city of Lahore in March that killed 72 people, many of them children, in a crowded park.
The blast in the Balochistan provincial capital Quetta came as up to 200 people had gathered at the Civil Hospital after the fatal shooting of a senior local lawyer earlier in the day. Video footage showed bodies strewn on the ground among pools of blood and shattered glass as shocked survivors cried and comforted one another.
The crowd, mainly made up of lawyers and journalists, had gone to the hospital after the death of Mr Bilal Anwar Kasi, the president of the Balochistan Bar Association, in a shooting, provincial home secretary Akbar Harifal said.
The lawyer had been targeted by two unidentified gunmen as he left his home for work.
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. The military has been deployed in and around the city's hospitals, officials said.
Mr Pervez Masi, who was injured by flying glass, said the blast was so powerful that "we didn't know what had happened".
Balochistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, has oil and gas resources but is afflicted by Islamist militancy, sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims and a separatist insurgency.
Militant groups in the province routinely target security forces and government installations. Several lawyers were also targeted during a recent spate of killings in Quetta.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the bombing and ordered the authorities to tighten security.
"No one will be allowed to disturb the peace of the province," he said, adding that "the people... and security forces in Balochistan have given sacrifices for the country".
Pakistani hospitals have been targeted previously by militants.
In 2010, a bomb killed 13 people outside the casualty department of a hospital in Karachi in Sindh province.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE