QUETTA: At least 15 people, mostly military men, were martyred and dozens wounded – some of them critically – in a terrorist attack targeting an army truck in a high-security neighbourhood of Quetta on Saturday night.
Officials said it was a suicide attack and the bomber drove his motorcycle, rigged with explosives, into the military truck at Old Pishin bus stop. The blast ignited a fire on the truck and several other vehicles driving past.
The military’s media wing confirmed that eight military men and seven civilians were martyred and 25 others, among them 15 civilians, injured in the attack. “Incendiary explosives were used,” the ISPR stated, though it didn’t explicitly say the attack involved a suicide bomber.
The provincial home minister confirmed the death toll but put the number of wounded at 40. “According to the information we have received so far, there are around 15 casualties, people who were martyred, and around 40 people were wounded,” Sarfraz Bugti said.
Director-General Civil Defence Aslam Tareen said the suicide bomber was riding a motorcycle which he rammed into the military truck. The bomber carried 20-25 kilograms of explosives in the device which was packed with ball bearings to inflict maximum casualties.
Bugti, however, said the nature of the blast could not immediately be determined but an investigation was under way.
The blast triggered a huge fire that also engulfed several vehicles driving past the military truck. Four cars, four auto-rickshaws and two motorcycles were gutted before fire fighters put out the blaze.
Army troops, aided by police and paramilitary personnel, threw a security cordon around the area as investigators started sifting through the debris for vital forensic evidence.
The busy Pishin Stop neighbourhood, which is dotted with hotels, restaurants and shops, is in the high-security zone which houses several important buildings, including FC Headquarters, Balochistan Assembly, Chief Minister House, Governor House and Balochistan High Court.
Windows of buildings in the neighbourhood were shattered by the thud of the blast, as panic gripped local residents.
The injured were driven to the Civil Hospital and the Combined Military Hospital where medics said eight of them had life-threatening wounds.
Health Minister Rehmat Saleh Baloch told journalists that a state of emergency had been declared in all hospitals of the city, especially at the Civil Hospital, where most of the injured were being treated.
The blast came two days before the country’s 70th Independence Day anniversary, and the military chief said it was an effort to mar the celebrations.
Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa condemned the terrorist attack on the army truck in Quetta which he called “an attempt to mar Independence Day festivity” in the country.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi condemned the Quetta bombing and directed the authorities concerned to provide best medical treatment to the injured.
“We will continue to work to eliminate the menace of terrorism from our country,” he said in a statement releases by his office.
Deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who led a massive rally into Lahore after travelling from Islamabad for three days, also denounced the Quetta blast in his speech to a huge crowd.
He offered condolences to the families of the victims. However, opposition politicians hit out at Sharif for mobilising the entire state machinery for the security of his rally.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Taliban and Islamic State militants have carried out terrorist attacks in Quetta city in the past.