NEW: Lawyers strike across Pakistan in protest
Bomb blast at hospital in northwestern Pakistan kills at least 72, with 112 injured
Lawyers and journalists at hospital after body of activist lawyer Bilal Kasi brought there
Editor’s Note: Correction – A previous version of this story published on August 8, 2016, stated that the Pakistan Taliban, rather than a splinter group, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Thousands of lawyers boycotted courts across Pakistan Tuesday to protest against one the of the deadliest attacks the country has ever seen.
Hours after a prominent lawyer was gunned down in Pakistan, more than 72 people were killed in a bombing at the hospital where his body was taken. Many of those killed in the blast were lawyers and journalists who had gathered at the hospital to mourn and report on the death of lawyer Bilal Kasi, who had been gunned down earlier in the day.
Farogh Naseem, Vice Chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council, told CNN there will be seven days of mourning, and the strike will continue for an additional two days as the organization tackles concerns over the safety and security of Pakistan’s lawyers.
‘Utter horror and devastation’
The explosion at a hospital in Quetta on Monday also injured 112 others, said Rehmat Baloch, the health minister of Balochistan province in the western part of the country.
The explosion at 9:30 a.m. local time (12.30 a.m. ET) rocked the emergency ward of the civil hospital, Sarfaraz Bugti, Home Minister of Balochistan, told CNN.
“It was a scene of utter horror and devastation in the courtyard hospital,” Wall Street Journal reporter Saeed Shah told CNN’s Max Foster from Islamabad. “There were bodies strewn everywhere, bleeding lawyers trying to get up.”
Jamat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of Pakistan’s Tehreek-i Taliban (TTP) – also known as the Pakistan Taliban – has claimed responsibility for both the hospital blast and Kasi’s death, according to Ihsanullah Ihsan, a spokesman for the faction.
Kasi was the president of the Balochistan Bar Association.
Among those killed in the hospital blast was 26-year-old Dawn News journalist Mahmood Khan and a 14-year-old-boy.
“This brutal and senseless attack on civilians, so many of them lawyers working to bring justice to their country, will not undermine one of the most important pillars of Pakistan’s democracy and civil society,” said American Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale in a statement.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif condemned the blast, saying, “No one will be allowed to disturb peace in the province that has been restored due to countless sacrifices of security forces, police and the people of Balochistan.”
The prime minister said in a statement that he has directed authorities to “maintain utmost vigilance” and that the country has boosted security for members in the legal fraternity as well as for the rest of society.
Legendary Pakistan cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan also expressed his dismay at the attack on a hospital.
Group vows to continue attacks
The group first targeted and killed Bilal Kasi, president of the Balochistan Bar Association, then a suicide bomber targeted lawyers and reporters who had gathered at the hospital Kasi’s body had been taken to, said Ihsan, spokesman for the faction.
He added that Jamaat-ul-Ahrar will continue to carry out attacks in Pakistan.
Separately, ISIS also claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack at the hospital, according to statements from ISIS-linked media Amaq Agency, but these claims cannot be verified by CNN.
ISIS is less known to be operative in Pakistan than the TTP, and it’s not clear if Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and ISIS are affiliated.
The hospital suicide bomber used an explosive vest containing steel ball bearings, with these splinters killing a large number of lawyers and journalists present, an official at the Bomb Disposal Squad told CNN.
“Jamaat-ul-Ahrar are known for their extremely bloody attacks,” said CNN’s Sophia Saifi in Islamabad.
“They were responsible for the deadliest attack in the country earlier this year when a children’s amusement park was targeted. They’re known for targeting soft targets – churches, amusement parks, and now we see a hospital where lawyers were killed.
“These victims were the young creme de la creme of this country – the doctors, the lawyers, the journalists and cameramen who have lost their lives today in a horrific attack.”
CNN’s Zahra Ullah and Sophia Saifi contributed to this report.