Weeping relatives gathered yesterday to identify the charred remains of loved ones killed in a double attack in Pakistan’s southwest claimed by a banned Sunni militant group.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) said it carried out the attacks on a bus carrying women students and a hospital that killed at least 25.
LEJ said a female suicide bomber struck the bus in Quetta, capital of Baluchistan Province, on Saturday, killing 14 female students.
A follow-up attack about 90 minutes later at a hospital treating survivors left at least 11 dead and led to a prolonged gunbattle between security forces and militants occupying part of the Bolan Medical Complex. Television footage showed people fleeing the building in panic.
The standoff lasted for several hours and ended when security forces stormed the building, freeing 35 people who had been taken hostage, Pakistani Minister of the Interior Chaudhry Nisar told reporters on Saturday.
Authorities shut down the hospital yesterday, moving patients to another facility as investigators combed the grisly aftermath of the violence.
The intensity of the blast and subsequent fire reduced the student bus to a blackened skeleton. Weeping relatives gathered to identify bodies outside the mortuary of the Provincial Sandeman Hospital amid a strong stench of burned flesh.
The state of the bodies added confusion to the relatives’ grief as some were given contradictory information about their loved ones.
Mohammad Hamza, 19, said that on Saturday he had been given the body of his student sister, only to be told a mistake had been made.
“I came here after someone had given us the information that we had taken the wrong body and my sister’s body was still here at hospital, but it is not true,” Hamza told reporters.
It appeared the body he was given on Saturday was indeed his sister.
Mohammad Yasir, deputy registrar of Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University, said DNA testing may be needed to identify body parts.
LEJ spokesman Abubakar Siddiq called newspapers in Quetta late on Saturday to claim the killings.
“The suicide attack on the bus was carried out by one of our sisters. She boarded the student bus and blew herself up,” Siddiq said. “Then we carried out a second suicide attack at the hospital and our fighters killed several people. We did this because security forces killed our fighters and their wives in Kharotabad.”
Pakistani security forces on June 6 killed at least three militants and two women during a raid at a house in Quetta’s Kharotabad neighborhood. Officials said they belonged to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, with whom LEJ has links.
Quetta Chief of Police Mir Zubair Mehmood told reporters that the students on the bus were from various ethnic groups, including Hazaras, who were targeted in a series of bombings earlier this year.
The initial blast gutted the bus while it was on the campus of a university for women, killing 11 students, and another explosion went off soon after at the hospital.
Jan Mohammed Bulaidi, spokesman for Chief Minister of Balochistan Abdul Malik, said he believed the second attack was targeted at government officials.
Those killed at the hospital included a senior government official, three security officials and a nurse, he said. The city’s nursing federation said three more nurses and two family members of the student victims also died.
There was fury in the Pakistani press yesterday, both at the perpetrators and the security forces for failing to prevent the third major atrocity in Quetta in six months.
Dawn, the country’s leading English-language newspaper, said the state’s shortcomings had been shown once again.
“That the state has again failed both at the level of intelligence-gathering and preventing a terrorist attack from succeeding is also obvious,” it said in an editorial.