Injured people lie down on road after an explosion in Quetta.—AP

QUETTA: At least 56 people were killed and about 160 others injured here on Friday when a suicide bomber struck a procession brought out to mark the Al Quds day. The bomber blew himself up when the rally, organised by the Imamia Students Organisation, reached Meezan Chowk.

Soon after the blast some armed men in the procession started firing into the air, triggering chaos and panic. People fled or lay on the ground to avoid the gunfire.

All shopping centres and business establishments shuttered down in no time after an angry mob set on fire several vehicles and ransacked some shops.

They also attacked DSNGs of different TV channels and fired at the Aaj van, killing its driver. Three policemen were injured.

The outlawed Lashkar-i-Jhangvi has claimed responsibility for the attack. A spokesman identified the bomber as 22-year-old Arshad Muavia. But according to a report from tribal areas, a spokesman of the Tehril-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack.

According to official sources, the provincial government imposed a ban on religious processions.

“It was a suicide attack,” Balochistan home secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani told Dawn. He said that organisers of the procession had been alerted to the threat.

Bomb disposal squad officials said the device packed 15 kilograms of explosives. The impact of the blast smashed windows of a number of shops and buildings.

Police found limbs of the bomber and sent them for forensic tests.

Balochistan IG Iqbal Malik said the organisers had agreed at a meeting that the procession would not go up to Meezan Chowk.

“They were stopped at a place agreed upon for terminating the procession, but they violated the written agreement,” Mr Malik said.

The procession started from an Imambargah on Prince Road after Friday prayers. When it reached near Islamia High School, police stopped the processionists from moving ahead. But they refused, broke the police cordon and marched on Meezan Chowk.

Sources said the bomber had entered the rally near Baldia Plaza and detonated the explosives during speeches by some ISO leaders.

Thirty-five people died on the spot and the rest in hospitals. A number of dead and wounded lay in pools of blood. The blast also enveloped motorcycles and bodies in flames. “I saw a young man entering the procession and after that a powerful explosion took place,” Saqib Khan, an eyewitness, told Dawn. He said that after the blast heavy gunfire shook the area.

An emergency was declared in all government hospitals in Quetta. Thirty bodies were taken to the CMH, nine to the Civil Hospital and two to Bolan Medical College Hospital.

Thirteen people with bullet injuries were taken to the Civil Hospital.

“Fifty-six people were killed and over 160 injured in the blast,” DIG (Operations) Hamid Shakeel said.

Iqbal Malik, the police chief, constituted three teams to investigate the incident.

Amanullah Kasi adds: The Balochistan Shia Council and Ittehad Tajran Balochistan called a shutdown in Quetta for Saturday. They appealed to traders not to open their shops in protest against the attack. The BSC also called for a 40-day mourning.

The Awami National Party, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, PML-N, Jamhoori Watan Party (Talal), Jamaat-i-Islami and Muttahida Qaumi Movement condemned the bombing. -by Saleem Shahid