At least 16 people were killed and 71 injured when an apparent Taleban suicide blast ripped through a protest in Pakistan’s Lahore on Monday, officials said, shattering the city’s growing sense of security.
Police cordoned off the area near the crowded Mall Road, one of the city’s main arteries, as witnesses fled amid fears of a second explosion, with images of the injured being carried away shown by local media.
The road had been crowded with hundreds of people, mainly chemists, protesting provincial government plans to further regulate the medical sector.
“The blast was so powerful. I saw the injured and bodies, saw flames surrounding the blast site, people were crying,” witness Muhammad Tariq told AFP.
Rescue official Deeba Shahnaz said at least 16 people had died in the explosion, while some 71 other wounded people had been rushed to city hospitals, in figures confirmed by hospital sources.
The attack “seems to be a suicide blast”, senior police official Amin Wains said, adding it had apparently targeted police trying to regulate the protest.
“Police at the scene have told me that apparently it’s a suicide blast, we are investigating,” Rana Sanaullah, the provincial law minister, told AFP.
The Pakistani Taleban faction swiftly claimed responsibility for the blast, which came three days after it announced it would carry out a series of attacks on government installations around the country.
A spokesman for the group warned in a statement that Monday’s blast was “just the start”.
Lahore, the country’s cultural capital, suffered one of Pakistan’s deadliest attacks during 2016, a suicide bomb attack in a park over Easter that killed more than 70 – including many children.
But such incidents have been rare in the teeming city in recent years, with security across Pakistan improving dramatically in 2015 and 2016 after the military launched a crackdown on extremism backed by a government-led National Action Plan.
Cricket fans on social media quickly voiced fears Monday’s explosion could derail plans to hold the highly-anticipated final of the Pakistan Super League in Lahore.source khaleejtimes