[The blast came after the shooting early Monday of Bilal Anwar Kasi, president of the Baluchistan Bar Association, by unknown attackers. Local news reports said that he was killed by men on a motorcycle as he was on his way to court. As the news of Mr. Kasi’s death spread through Quetta, dozens of lawyers went to Civil Hospital, where his body had been taken for an autopsy.]
By Salman Masood
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — At least 54 people were killed on Monday in the restive Pakistani city of Quetta when an explosion, apparently caused by a suicide bomber, struck a hospital where dozens of lawyers had gathered to condemn the killing of a prominent colleague.
Officials in the southwestern city said that at least 50 people were wounded, most of them critically, and that the death toll was likely to rise.
Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan, a province bordering Afghanistan and Iran that has been a center separatist and sectarian violence for more than a decade. Much of the violence in Quetta has come from sectarian extremist groups that have targeted Hazaras, a mostly Shiite ethnic minority that makes up a large part of Quetta’s population.
Quetta has a large contingent of civil security and paramilitary forces, and the authorities have claimed in recent months that they have brought some semblance of normalcy to the city. But the bombing on Monday showed that the militant threat there is far from solved.
The blast came after the shooting early Monday of Bilal Anwar Kasi, president of the Baluchistan Bar Association, by unknown attackers. Local news reports said that he was killed by men on a motorcycle as he was on his way to court. As the news of Mr. Kasi’s death spread through Quetta, dozens of lawyers went to Civil Hospital, where his body had been taken for an autopsy.
As they protested the killing, 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.
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.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing or for Mr. Kasi’s shooting. Officials said they were investigating possible motives for both assaults.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the bombing on Monday, urging the law enforcement authorities to improve security in Quetta. “No one will be allowed to disturb the peace in the province that has been restored thanks to the countless sacrifices by the security forces, police and the people of Baluchistan,” he said in a statement.
By the afternoon, Gen. Raheel Sharif, the Pakistani Army chief, had reached the city to visit victims and express solidarity. General Sharif then led a meeting of senior security officials, according to Lt. Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, the army spokesman.
General Bajwa, in a message posted on Twitter, claimed that the attack was “an attempt to undermine the improved security” in Baluchistan, specifically targeting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a multibillion-dollar endeavor by both countries that includes infrastructure networks and energy projects.
A spokesman for Baluchistan’s government, Anwar ul-Haq Kakar, said that the perpetrators would soon be brought to justice. “This is indeed a highly condemnable act, but such cowardly acts cannot shake our resolve of eradicating the menace of terrorism,” he said by telephone.
The Pakistani Bar Association said lawyers across the country would hold a one-day strike on Tuesday and would spend a week in mourning.
Follow Salman Masood on Twitter @salmanmasood.
Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud contributed reporting.