At least 69 people, mostly women and children, enjoying Easter holiday at a popular public park, were today killed and over 300 injured when a suicide bomber belonging to Pakistani Taliban group blew himself up in the eastern city of Lahore, the capital of Punjab province.
A large number of people including Christians were present in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Iqbal Town area when the powerful blast occurred at 6.40pm, leaving many in a pool of blood.
The brutal attack by a suicide bomber believed to be in his 20s was claimed by the Jamaatul Ahrar, a splinter group of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
It has previously claimed several bombings, including the Charsadda court attack this month, saying they were to avenge the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of former Punjab governor Salman Taseer.
District Coordination Officer Lahore retired Capt Muhammad Usman said the head of the bomber in today’s attack has been recovered. Ball bearings were also found at the blast site.
“It was suicide attack. A suicide bomber blew himself up inside the park,” Deputy Inspector General Lahore Police Haider Asharaf told PTI.
“It has been confirmed that it was a suicide blast. Some 10 to 15 kilogramme explosive might have been used in the blast.”
He ruled out Christians were the target of the attack. “It was not a Christian park. Christians may be among the dead.”
“The death toll has climbed to 69. More than 300 people have been injured,” a Punjab government spokesman said.
Another official said the park was a soft target. “Terrorists targeted children and the minority community to achieve their nefarious designs,” he told PTI.
“The death toll may rise as a number of injured are in critical condition,” Punjab minister Bilal Yasin said.
Punjab police said the suicide bomber 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 – the hometown of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and a comparatively peaceful city in an otherwise violence-wracked country.
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.
Eyewitnesses said body parts were scattered all around the park. They said there was no security around the park.
The crowd was “unusually large” because of Easter today.
“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,” Shahid said.
“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. 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.