A pall of gloom hung over Mastung town and neighbouring areas in Pakistan's Balochistan province as the victims of Friday's suicide attack were laid to rest.
“We are busy with funerals,” said Atta Ul Munim, the assistant police commissioner in Mastung. “Several bodies were sent to their native places outside Mastung city soon after the bombing yesterday.”
The Counter Terrorism Department has registered a case of suicide bombing and collected evidence from the blast scene, including body parts of the bomber for DNA testing, Muhammad Azam, the information duty officer with Mastung District Police, told The National.
In Mastung, people kept their businesses closed to mourn the victims. In other parts of Pakistan, there were demonstrations protesting against the attacks.
While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack in Mastung, militant group ISIS appears to be behind it, a security official told The National, requesting anonymity as he wasn't authorised to speak to the media.
ISIS carried out an attack days earlier in the same area after one of its commanders was killed there.
More than 59 people died and at least 70 were wounded on Friday in two bombing attacks in Pakistan, as crowds marked the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed.
Shortly after the first blast at the gathering in Mastung, another explosion rocked a mosque in Hangu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killing at least 5 people.
Muhammad Muavia, 13, witnessed the bombing in Mastung, and told The National: “I couldn't sleep the entire night.”
“My home is situated away from where the explosion occurred, but I had come to play cricket with my friends close to the rally venue when the incident happened.”
Mr Ul Munim said the condition of many victims remains critical.
The district police officer narrowly escaped the attack, having arrived at the venue to inspect arrangements for the event just moments before the explosion.
“There was no prior threat, and a day before the event, elders of the Ahle Sunnat sect met with the district administration authorities regarding arrangements for their public meeting,” he added.
The government may announce compensation for the victims, he said.
Kabir Ahmed, a 27-year-old student at Balochistan University, told The National that he rushed to the venue soon after the bombing.
“We took my cousin, who was injured, to the hospital in Mastung, but there wasn't any place to stand, let alone treat him. We then left for Quetta to find a hospital but my cousin died on the way,” Ahmed said.
Mir Ali Mardan Domki, the caretaker chief minister of Baluchistan province, said all indications from the investigation suggest the attack was a suicide bombing.
Counter-terrorism investigators were working to reach conclusions that would be shared with the nation soon, he said.
The government plans to transfer critically wounded patients to Karachi for better treatment, and everyone injured and the families of the people killed will receive financial compensation, he said.
In the city of Lahore, members of Majlis-e-Ulema Nizamia, a religious body, gathered in front of a press club to condemn the bombing. Addressing the crowd, Maulana Abdus Sattar Saeedi demanded that the government move quickly against those involved in the attacks in Mastung and Hangu.
President Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar, Cabinet ministers, former lawmakers, heads of political parties, social and religious groups, and members of civil society also widely condemned the bombing and loss of precious lives.
Balochistan has suffered from separatist violence at the hands of Baloch insurgents, but the attacks carried out by the Pakistan Taliban underscore the mounting challenges facing Pakistan's army in the region.
The province has suffered intense violence in recent years between the government and the Pakistan Taliban.
On Friday, though, the Pakistan Taliban, formally known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, denied involvement in the attacks.
“The loss of innocent lives in the blast in Mastung is deeply saddening,” said Muhammad Khurasani, a spokesman for the Pakistan Taliban.
Following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, ISIS lost ground and many of its fighters joined the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which is already fighting the Pakistani government.
Pakistan was a major base of operations for the Afghan resistance against the Soviet Union, and militant networks have endured for decades in the country despite numerous military operations to oust them, starting in 2007 when the Pakistani Taliban came into existence.
With agency reports