Islamabad/Quetta, Pakistan – The death toll from a suicide attack on an election rally in southwestern Pakistan has risen to at least 129, government officials say, as relatives continue to throng to a major hospital to collect deceased loved ones.
Several of the wounded from the attack were still under treatment on Saturday, and the death toll could rise, provincial health official Mustafa Jamali told Al Jazeera.
A suicide attacker struck an election rally of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), a newly formed political group, in the southwestern town of Drigarh, about 35km south of Balochistan’s provincial capital Quetta, on Friday afternoon.
The explosion occurred in the middle of a packed crowd, just as BAP leader Siraj Raisani was taking the stage.
Raisani, who was running for a provincial assembly seat in Pakistan’s general election later this month, was killed, his brother Lashkari Raisani told Al Jazeera.
Images from the blast site following the attack showed scores of bodies strewn across the ground, some covered with the party’s green and white flags.
At Quetta’s main civil hospital, where at least 73 bodies of those killed were transported after the attack, a crowd of people at the morgue waited to receive the bodies of relatives killed in the blast.
“We are still treating 110 of the wounded who were brought here,” said hospital official Shamim Akhtar.
“Those who were seriously wounded have already been operated upon.”
There were conflicting claims of responsibility for the attack, with both the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) and a faction of the Pakistan Taliban claiming the attack, in statements released to the press.
There was no security, no checking. People were coming and going as they pleased ... there were security personnel there, but they were not checking anyone.
Bangul Khan was metres away when the explosion occurred.
“I was standing on the stage,” he told Al Jazeera from his hospital bed in Quetta’s Civil Hospital.
“Siraj came on stage … and when he started speaking, the explosion occurred. I don’t know what happened after that.”
Khan had shrapnel from the suicide blast lodged in his leg and shoulder. At least six of his relatives were killed in the attack.
“There was no security from the government there. There were roughly 60 or 70 of [Siraj Raisani’s] personal security, one of them you can see lying here,” he says as he gestures to a nearby bed.
Israrullah, wounded in the neck and on his arms, says he was dragged to the political rally by his uncle.
“I was right at the back, and the explosion took place in the centre,” he told Al Jazeera.
“There were a lot of people wounded, and I ran away. There were a lot of people killed, too, [because] the blast occurred right in the middle of the crowd.”
Jameel Ahmed, Israrullah’s uncle, was among the scores of people killed.
“There was no security, no checking. People were coming and going as they pleased … there were security personnel there, but they were not checking anyone,” Israrullah told Al Jazeera.
Deaths ‘cannot be in vain’
Provincial officials said they would beef up security for candidates following the attack. Raisani’s BAP party is suspending electoral activities for three days, party leader Saeed Hashmi told Al Jazeera.
“It is obvious that we will rethink security a bit, but the process will continue,” he said, hours after the blast.
The provincial government on Friday declared two days of official mourning throughout the province, with all flags to fly at half-staff.
Other political parties condemned the attack, with Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari saying he would suspend his campaign for the day following the attack.
“Devastated by continued attacks on innocent Pakistanis. Loss of Siraj Raisani & 120 innocent people in Mastung cannot be in vain must insure this mindset is defeated,” he tweeted.
Bhutto Zardari was in Peshawar on Friday, where he met Danyal Bilour, the son of Awami National Party leader Haroon Bilour, killed in a suicide attack on a political rally earlier in the week.
The violence has sparked fears of a return to the series of attacks, mainly targeting secular parties, carried out in the run-up to Pakistan’s last general election in 2013.
At least 158 people were killed and more than 672 wounded in more than 120 attacks in the six weeks leading up to that election, according to the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) research organisation.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s Digital Correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.