LAHORE (REUTERS, AFP) - A suicide bomber killed at least 25 people, many of them police, in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Monday (July 24), officials said, an attack which shattered a period of relative calm in Pakistan’s second-largest city.
The Pakistani Taleban claimed responsibility for the attack which wrought carnage near the Lahore Technology Park in the centre of the city. Police deployed to clear street vendors from the area had been targeted, a police official said.
“We suspect that he (the suicide bomber) came on a motorcycle and he rammed it into a police checkpoint,” Lahore police operations chief Haider Ashraf told Reuters. Rescue workers shifted the wounded to hospital and police officers cordoned off the bomb site as army troops also arrived at the scene.
“The death toll we have now is 25 dead and 52 are wounded,” said Jam Sajjad Hussain, spokesman for the Rescue 1122 service.
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A wounded man sitting on the roadside was shown crying in pain on television amid cars and motorcycles mangled by the blast.
The bombing was claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taleban, also known as the Pakistani Taleban, in a message sent to the media by spokesman Muhammad Khurassani. The Pakistani Taleban are loosely allied with Afghanistan’s Taleban insurgents but focus their attacks on the Pakistani government.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan warned that the toll could rise in a press conference held minutes after the attack. Most of the casualties were police officers and some bystanders, he said.
Lahore has been hit by significant militant attacks in Pakistan’s more than decade-long war on extremism, but they have been less frequent in recent years. The last major blast in the city was in March last year, when 75 were killed and hundreds injured in a bomb targeting Christians celebrating Easter Sunday in a park.
A bomb also killed 14 people in Lahore in February during a wave of attacks across the country, denting optimism that Pakistan’s security situation was improving.
In April, seven were killed in an attack in the city targeting a team that was carrying out the country’s long overdue census.
Pakistan’s security has dramatically improved since the powerful army cracked down on militancy in the wake of the country’s deadliest ever attack in 2014. That assault saw gunmen from the Pakistani Taleban storm a school in the north-western city of Peshawar, killing more than 150 people, the majority of them children.
It shook a country already grimly accustomed to atrocities and prompted the military to step up an operation in the tribal areas, where militants had previously operated with impunity.
Explosions caused by gas cylinders – which are used for cooking as well as in cars – are also common in Pakistan. A blast in Lahore in February was initially thought to be a militant attack, but turned out to be a gas explosion.
The city of around six million people is Pakistan’s cultural hub and the capital of its most powerful province, Punjab.