A suicide bomber killed at least 72 people, mostly women and children, at a park in Lahore on Sunday in an attack claimed by a Pakistani Taliban faction which said it had targeted Christians. More than 300 other people were wounded, officials said.
The chief minister of Punjab province, Shahbaz Sharif, announced three days mourning and pledged to ensure that those involved in the attack are brought to trial.
Senior police officer Haider Ashraf says the explosion took place close to the children’s rides in Gulshan-e-Iqbal park. He says the explosion appeared to have been a suicide bombing, but investigations were ongoing. The area was crowded with Christians celebrating the Easter holidays, he said.
The Taliban faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack. “The target was Christians,” a spokesman for the faction, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said. “We want to send this message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered Lahore. He can do what he wants but he won’t be able to stop us. Our suicide bombers will continue these attacks.”
“It is suspected that a suicide bomber blew himself up at the main gate of the park,” Deputy Inspector General Lahore Police Haider Asharaf said. He said about 8-10 kilogrammes of explosive might have been used in the blast.
Heard about the blast in Lahore. I strongly condemn it. My condolences to families of the deceased & prayers with the injured: PM
— PMO India (@PMOIndia) March 27, 2016
District Coordination Officer Lahore retired Capt Muhammad Usman said: “At least 56 people have been killed and over 126 injured in the blast.”
He, however, ruled out that Christians were the target of the attack. “It was not a Christian park. Christians may be among the dead.”
Punjab minister Bilal Yasin said over 200 people have been injured in the blast. “The death toll may rise as a number of injured are in critical condition,” he said.
An official of the Punjab police told reporters that the suicide bomber – believed to be in his 20s – managed to enter the park and blew himself up near the swings. “It appears that the suicide bomber’s main target were children,” he said.
The park is located in a posh-locality in Lahore – a comparatively peaceful city in an otherwise violence-wrecked Pakistan which is also the hometown of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The army has joined rescue officials to shift the injured to hospitals. An emergency has been declared in city hospitals and appeals have been made to people to donate blood.
“We must bring the killers of our innocent brothers, sisters and children to justice and will never allow these savage inhumans to over-run our life and liberty,” military spokesman Asim Bajwa said in a post on Twitter.
Eyewitnesses said there were scattered body parts all around the park, where a large number of families, especially women and children, were present on a Sunday evening. The crowd was “unusually large” because of Easter.
“My two children were taking swings when a powerful blast occurred. Me and the children fell on the ground. I was semi-unconscious. When I fully regained consciousness I ran to find my children,” Saleem Shahid, one of the injured in the blast, said at a city hospital where he was being treated.
His children sustained injuries in the blast. “Thank God! They were alive having injuries on their head. I tore my shirt and made a bandage of it,” Shahid said.
Police tried to evacuate the park but people looking for their kins refused to leave the place. “Still a good number of people are in critical condition,” Emergency Services Rescue spokesperson Deeba Shahnaz said.
Punjab government has announced a three-day mourning in the province. Several leaders, including Prime Minister Sharif and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan, have condemned the blast. Christians leaders also strongly condemned the attack.