Shock, grief in Pakistan after Easter blast

Pakistani Christians at a funeral for a victim of the March 27 suicide bombing, in Lahore, on Monday. The bomber, targeting Christians, killed 73 people, including children, in a crowded park.
Pakistani Christians at a funeral for a victim of the March 27 suicide bombing, in Lahore, on Monday. The bomber, targeting Christians, killed 73 people, including children, in a crowded park.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESS

Families still coming to terms with tragedy as country rounds up terror suspects

LAHORE (Pakistan) • Mr Riaz Masih and Ms Nasreen Riasat had been married for four years, with their first child on the way in just a month, when they decided a slow walk in the park would be just the thing to enjoy a pleasant Sunday evening in Lahore.

In a moment of calculated cruelty, they were thrust into the long roll call of families victimised by an Islamist suicide bomber on the Easter holiday, and among the vast accounting of terrorism's toll on a country racked by extremism, again and again, for years.

"I can't figure out what happened," Mr Masih said, his voice choking with grief as he lay in a bed at Lahore's Jinnah Hospital on Monday. Ms Riasat and their soon-to-be-born child were among the dozens killed by the bomber's blast. "Within minutes, I lost my wife. I couldn't save her."

Mr Muhammad Kasim, a 25-year-old mechanic from out of town, was buying tickets to children's rides in the park for a group of family and friends when he felt the explosion. Running to the corner where his relatives were waiting, he found horror: an aunt killed, along with the two-year-old daughter of a friend.

"Twelve of my relatives are wounded and under treatment," he said, still wearing his bloodstained shirt on Monday at the overwhelmed hospital. "I haven't slept since yesterday, and I have no time to eat since I am the only one attending to my wounded relatives."

Shock and grief enveloped Pakistan as the official death toll from the attack in Lahore a day earlier rose to at least 73, with hundreds reported wounded by officials. In a televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to fight terrorism "until it is rooted out from our society".

And the country's powerful military, credited with greatly reducing militant attacks over the past two years, said it was beginning a new round of operations in Punjab province, Pakistan's most populous region and home to Lahore. The authorities detained more than 5,000 suspects, then released most of them in the two days since the attack, a provincial minister said yesterday.

Investigators were keeping 216 suspects in custody pending further investigation, said Mr Rana Sanaullah, a state minister for Punjab province. "After further investigation we will know more about them... If someone is found to be guilty, they will be charged," he said.

The attack was claimed by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taleban, which said it was targeting Christians who had gathered in the park for Easter.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has written to his Pakistani counterpart, Mr Sharif, to convey his condolences over the terrorist attack, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement yesterday.

"On behalf of the Government, I offer our deepest condolences to the families of the victims as well as the people and government of Pakistan on the brutal terrorist attack in Lahore, Pakistan," wrote Mr Lee.

"Singapore strongly condemns this senseless act of terror. I was especially saddened to learn that many of the victims were innocent women and children. This attack is a reminder of the need for all of us to continue our vigilance against terrorism, and to remain resolute in countering it."

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore issued a statement that said: "Over the past few months, we have seen too many ugly incidences of violence all around the world - from Istanbul to Jakarta, from Syria to Cameroon, Ankara, Brussels, and just two days ago, Lahore... We are saddened and outraged at such cruelty and misguidedness, which truly have no place in this world.

"We stand together with all Muslims and all Singaporeans in offering our deepest condolences to the families of all the victims of these senseless tragedies."

NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2016, with the headline 'Shock, grief in Pakistan after Easter blast'. Print Edition | Subscribe