Suicide bomber kills at least 52 in Pakistan park

LAHORE, Pakistan • A suicide bomber killed at least 52 people, mostly women and children, at a public park in the Pakistani city of Lahore yesterday, government officials and police said, striking at the heart of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s political base of Punjab.

The blast occurred in the parking area of Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, a few metres from children’s swings. Around 150 people were injured in the explosion, officials said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast. Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 190 million people, is plagued by a Taleban insurgency, criminal gangs and sectarian violence. Punjab is its biggest and wealthiest province.

Witnesses said they saw body parts strewn across the parking area once the dust had settled after the blast.The park had been particularly busy yesterday evening because of the Easter holiday weekend.

Mr Salman Rafique, a health adviser for the Punjab provincial government, said the death toll was at least 52 people. “Most of the dead and injured are women and children,” said police superintendent for the area in which the park is located Mustansar Feroz.

Media footage showed children and women crying and screaming, and rescue officials, police and bystanders carrying injured people to ambulances and private cars.

The blast occurred in the parking area of Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, a few metres from children’s swings. Around 150 people were injured in the explosion, officials said.

In 2014, Pakistan launched an offensive against Taleban and affiliated militant fighters in North Waziristan, seeking to deprive them of safe havens from which to launch attacks in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Last year had the least number of civilian and security forces casualties since 2007, the year the umbrella Pakistani Taleban group was formed. But militants have still been able to carry out major attacks. At least 16 people were killed and more than two dozen wounded when a bomb blew up inside a bus in Peshawar, the main city of Pakistan’s insurgency-racked north-west earlier this month.

Punjab 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 strongly denies.

In December 2014, gunmen from the Tehrik-i-Taleban militant group attacked the Army Public School in Peshawar, killing 141 people, including 132 schoolchildren.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2016, with the headline 'Suicide bomber kills at least 52 in Pakistan park'. Print Edition | Subscribe