The death toll from a massive suicide bombing targeting Christians gathered on Easter in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore rose to 70 yesterday, underscoring the ability of the militants to stage large-scale attacks despite a months-long military offensive targeting their hideouts.
Meanwhile, in the capital of Islamabad, extremists protested for a second day outside Pakistan’s Parliament and other key buildings in the city centre. The demonstrators set cars on fire, demanding that the authorities impose Islamic law or Sharia. The army, which was deployed Sunday to contain the rioters, remained out on the streets around the Parliament and key buildings yesterday. .
[Targeting a park filled with children, the attack] revealed the face of terror, which knows no limits and valuesRecep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkish president
The Lahore bombing, which was claimed by a breakaway Taleban faction that has publicly supported the Islamic State group, took place in a park that was crowded with families, with many women and children among the victims. At least 300 people were wounded in the bombing.
Also yesterday, Pakistan started observing a three-day mourning period that was declared after the Lahore attack.
Even though a breakaway Taleban group, known as Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, said it specifically targeted Pakistan’s Christian community, most of those killed in Lahore were Muslims, who were also gathered in the park for the Sunday weekend holiday. The park is a popular spot in the heart of Lahore.
Of the dead, 14 have been identified as Christians, according to Lahore Police Superintendent Mohammed Iqbal. Another 12 bodies have not yet been identified, he said.
The attack underscored both the precarious position of Pakistan’s minorities and the fact that the militants are still capable of staging wide-scale assaults despite a months-long military offensive targeting their hideouts and safe havens in remote tribal areas.
Ahsanullah Ahsan, a spokesman for the breakaway Taleban faction, said that along with deliberately targeting Christians celebrating Easter, the attack also meant to protest at Pakistan’s military operation in the tribal regions. The same militant group also took responsibility for the twin bombings of a Christian Church in Lahore last year.
In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the Lahore bombing, saying that in targeting a park filled with children, the attack “revealed the face of terror, which knows no limits and values”.
France expressed its “solidarity in these difficult moments” to the authorities and the people of Pakistan and underlined “the inflexible will of our country to continue to battle terrorism everywhere”.
In Islamabad, extremists had marched into the city on Sunday in protest of the hanging of policeman Mumtaz Qadri in February. Qadri was convicted for the 2011 murder of governor Salman Taseer, who was defending a Christian woman jailed on blasphemy charges. Taseer had also criticised and campaigned against Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws.
As the protesters reached an avenue leading to the Parliament, the march turned violent, with Qadri’s supporters smashing windows and damaging bus stations. Police fired tear gas but could not subdue the crowds, which remained in the capital.
Yesterday, they rallied anew, demanding that the Christian woman also be hanged and that authorities impose Islamic law or Sharia. The woman, Aasia Bibi, is still in jail facing blasphemy charges.