LAHORE (Pakistan) • A bomb killed one of Pakistan's provincial ministers and at least eight others when it destroyed the minister's home in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's political heartland, officials said.
Police said yesterday's blast appeared to be a suicide attack, and it had caused the roof to cave in.
At the time of the blast, Mr Shuja Khanzada, home minister of Punjab province, had been holding meetings in his home, located in his home town of Attock in northern Pakistan.
Mr Saeed Illahi, adviser to the province's chief minister, confirmed Mr Khanzada's death. He said the entire roof slab fell in one piece, complicating rescue efforts.
"There were between 20 and 30 people present when the blast took place," district information officer Shahzad Niaz said. Rescue workers at the scene said nine bodies had been recovered so far.
A police spokesman said two police officers were among those killed in the attack 70km north-west of Islamabad.
A Taleban-affiliated militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam, claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was retaliation for military operations against them. It was unclear if the group, based mainly in the tribal areas along the Afghan border, had actually carried out the attack or was just taking credit for it.
If the claim was true, the bombing would represent a significant development in the group's ability to strike at high-level targets. Such large attacks are more usually the hallmark of the Taleban or banned sectarian group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 190 million people, is plagued by a Taleban insurgency, criminal gangs and sectarian violence.
Punjab, which is Pakistan's biggest and wealthiest province, has traditionally been more peaceful than other parts of Pakistan.
Mr Sharif's opponents have accused him of tolerating militancy in return for peace in his province, a charge he fiercely denies.
Two weeks ago, Punjab police killed the leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, along with his two sons, deputy, and 10 other supporters. Police described the incident as a shoot-out as he sought to escape from custody, but many insiders say the shooting had the hallmarks of an extrajudicial killing.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, long seen as being close to Al-Qaeda and more recently, accused of developing links with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group, has a developed a reputation as one of Pakistan's most ruthless militant groups.
In the past year, the Pakistani authorities have cracked down hard on the myriad insurgent groups that have plagued the country for a decade. The offensive intensified after Taleban gunmen slaughtered more than 130 children at a school in the north-west of the country in December.