A suicide bomber has killed at least 70 people at the main gate of a hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, where lawyers had gathered to honor a prominent colleague who was shot dead earlier the same morning, authorities said.
The extremist group Islamic State and a faction of the Pakistani Taliban issued conflicting claims of responsibility for the August 8 attack that also wounded more than 100 others, many critically, in the capital of the southwestern province of Balochistan.
The bomber struck shortly after the body of Bilal Kasi, president of the Balochistan Bar Association, was brought to the hospital.
Police said most of the victims were lawyers who had gathered at Civil Hospital to honor Kasi, who was gunned down by unknown assailants on his way to Quetta’s main court complex.
Mohammad Din Kakar, one of the lawyers at the hospital gate, told RFE/RL that he had come to grieve for Kasi and was caught in the blast:
"I arrived [at the hospital] around 9:45 a.m.," Kakar said. "I saw Kasi's dead body, many lawyers were standing around [and] a lawyer asked a policeman on duty not to let people in and to close the doors. Then we walked out and the blast occurred. I lost consciousness after that."
Anwar ul-Haq Kakar, a spokesman for the government of Balochistan Province, said the attack at the hospital appeared to have been "preplanned."
As many as 200 people had gathered at the hospital to pay respects to Kasi when the suicide bomber struck.
Sarfraz Bugti, the provincial interior minister, denounced the attack as an "act of terrorism."
Hours after the attack, there were conflicting claims of responsibility.
The Islamic State (IS) extremist group said that it carried out the bombing. If so, it would be the first that IS has claimed an attack in Balochistan, though it has been behind previous attacks in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani Taliban faction Jamaat-ur-Ahrar also claimed responsibility. The group’s spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said it would release a video of the bombing soon.
Television footage from the hospital showed scenes of chaos, with panicked people fleeing through debris as smoke from the explosion filled the corridors.
"I was coming for my shift at the office [and] as soon as I reached the gate, there was a blast and people came running out," an unidentified witness told Reuters. "I left my bike there, and as I entered, I saw dead bodies scattered all over the place. There was blood all over. The injured people were covered with blood. "
Many of the dead appeared to be wearing black suits and ties, the traditional uniform of lawyers in Pakistan.
Pakistani lawyers' associations have announced seven days of mourning and a one-day boycott of courts nationwide to protest the bombing.
Balochistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, has major oil and natural-gas resources but is afflicted by Islamist militancy, sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims, and a separatist insurgency.
Quetta has also long been regarded as a base for the Afghan Taliban, whose leadership has regularly held meetings there in the past.
Pakistani hospitals have been targeted by militants previously.
In 2010 a bomb killed 13 people outside the casualty department of a hospital in Karachi, where victims of an earlier attack were being treated as relatives gathered.