- TTP Jamaatul Ahrar claims responsibility for bombing, says they had planned an attack on Easter under operation codenamed ‘Saut Ul Raad’
- Casualties include a large number of Muslims as well, as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif postpones trip to Britain and Gen Raheel orders intelligence agencies to arrest perpetrators of Lahore terrorism
A Taliban suicide bomber killed at least 70 people, mostly members of the minority Christian community and injured more than 350 others, most of them women and children, at a public park in Punjab’s provincial capital Lahore on Sunday.
The blast occurred in the parking area of Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Allama Iqbal Town, a few meters away from children’s swings.
The dastardly attack was claimed by Jamaatul Ahraar, a splinter faction of the banned terrorist outfit Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which said that the attack on Christians on Easter had been carried out under an operation codenamed “Saut Ul Raad”, which will continue throughout this year.
“We claim responsibility for the attack on Christians as they were celebrating Easter,” spokesperson for the TTP Jamaatul Ahrar, Ehsanullah Ehsan said in a statement to local media.
“It was part of our annual martyrdom attacks we have started this year,” Ehsan said, adding that “we had been waiting for this occasion.”
“We want to convey to the ruling PML-N and the prime minister that we have arrived in Punjab and we will reach you,” he said.
MAYHEM AT THE PARK:
Iqbal Town Superintendent Police Dr Muhammad Iqbal confirmed to Pakistan Today that the suicide bomber — packed with at least eight kilogrammes of explosives – had detonated the bomb near the children’s swings. He added that the bomb was packed with ball bearings for causing maximum deaths and injuries.
Security sources said that the suspected suicide bomber had been identified as Yousuf, son of Ghulam Farid, a resident of district Muzzafargarh, born January 1, 1988. The information was obtained from a burnt out national identity card found near the body of the suspected bomber.
Eyewitnesses said they saw body parts strewn across the parking lot once the dust had settled after the blast.
A resident of Iqbal Town who was at the park for an evening walk said that he had seen “bodies fly in the air” when the blast occurred.
“Flames were so high they reached above the trees and the attack site was soon littered with dead bodies and body parts,” said the man who identified himself as Akram.
TV footages showed children and women standing in pools of blood outside the park, crying and screaming and rescue officials, police and bystanders carrying injured people to ambulances and private cars.
Dozens of women and children were seen being wheeled into hospitals, covered in blood. Many of the injured were transported to hospitals on taxis and auto-rickshaws due to a shortage of ambulances. Hundreds of citizens arrived outside hospitals to donate blood.
Model Town Superintendent of Police Mustansar Feroz said that most of the injured and dead were women and children. The police official said that “adequate police security had been deployed at the park”.
Amanat Masih had brought his three children and two nephews to Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park to celebrate the Easter holiday, but the visit resulted in the tragic deaths of his two sons and a nephew.
“We were just here to enjoy the weather and have a good evening,” he said, wailing as he got his injuries nursed by a rescue official. “What kind of people target innocent people and little children in a park?”
Muhammad Rashid, who had helped move the injured to hospital said, “We took the injured to hospitals on rickshaws and taxis.”
He added that the crowd was “unusually large” because of Easter.
“The roads were also jammed and queues of vehicles could be seen till Moon Market.”
Many eyewitnesses said there was no security present in and around the park.
“The park is huge and has many entrance gates. There were almost no security personnel present there,” said a man who said he was present in the park when the explosion took place.
Javed Ali, a 35-year-old resident who lives opposite the park, said the force of the blast had shattered his home’s windows.
“Everything was shaking, there were cries and dust everywhere.
“After ten minutes I went outside. There was human flesh on the walls of our house. People were crying, I could hear ambulances,” he told a wire agency.
“The park was overcrowded because of Easter, there were a lot of Christians there. It was so crowded I told my family not to go.”
Dr Ashraf at Jinnah Hospital said that more than 40 dead bodies had arrived at the hospital.
“The number of injured stands at more than 340 people, of them 138 are in critical condition,” he said. I fear the death toll will rise.”
He described a nightmarish scene at the hospital, with staff treating casualties on floors and in corridors.
Soon after the attack, the Punjab government ordered all public parks to be closed and announced three days of mourning in the province. The main shopping areas were shut down and many of the city’s main roads were deserted.
The army was called in to control crowds outside the park. Some distraught, sobbing relatives clashed with police and rescue officials.
PM CONDEMNS ATTACK, ARMY CHIEF ORDERS CRACKDOWN:
In Islamabad, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed grief over the loss of lives in the terrorist attack in Lahore and said this would only reinforce the government’s will to clamp down on terrorism.
“Those who died in Lahore today were my children and brothers and sisters. We will eliminate terrorism from the country come what may,” he said.
Prime Minister Nawaz has also announced to cancel his visit to Britain on Monday (today) in wake of the Lahore bombing and the tense standoff in Islamabad.
The prime minister was scheduled to visit London ahead of his visit to the United States where he will attend a nuclear security summit on Thursday.
Meanwhile at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi late on Sunday night, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif chaired a high-level security meeting in which Director Generals of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) participated.
According to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the army chief had ordered the intelligence apparatus to put their act together and ensure that those behind the bombing in Lahore were brought to justice at the earliest.
The ISPR said that Gen Raheel also called for concerted efforts to apprehend the facilitators and abettors of this attack.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the first international leader to condemn the incident in Lahore.
Talking to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the telephone, Modi condemned the attack in the strongest terms.
“It’s condemnable to attack innocent children and women. We are with Pakistani nation in this time of grief,” he said, adding that India was ready to offer full support to Pakistan in fighting terrorism.
The United States also condemned the tragic incident in a statement from the White House.
“The United States stands with the people and government of Pakistan at this difficult hour. We will continue to work with our partners in Pakistan and across the region … to root out the scourge of terrorism,” White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in the statement.