The Taliban has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing outside police headquarters in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Tuesday that left at least six people dead and many more injured, citing the government's recent move to execute people convicted of terrorism.
The blast occurred early in the afternoon near the main gate of the headquarters in Lahore's Qila Gujjar Singh area. Several important government buildings are located near the site, including the Provincial Assembly of Punjab and the governor's residence.
Reuters reported that a police officer and four civilians were among those killed in the attack, apart from the assailant, while other reports indicated that as many as eight people were killed. A health official told Reuters that at least 23 people had been injured.
Police reports from the scene indicate that the attacker had attempted to breach the gate around the building, but officers kept him out — an effort that they said had reduced casualties.
"It appears to be a suicide bomber who approached the police lines and exploded himself when he was denied entry," Lahore Police Chief Amin Wains told reporters after the bombing. "We had made full security measurements, and that is why they were not able to enter the police lines area."
After the suicide attacker detonated the bomb outside of the offices, witnesses said the resulting blast blew body parts into the street. Wains told VICE News that a severed head was found at the scene.
"I saw two headless dead bodies lying on the spot" after the explosion, shopkeeper Ashraf Ali told VICE News. "Within no time, the adjoining shops, cars, and several motorcycles caught fire."
One eyewitness told VICE News that gunshots had been heard from across the police lines. Security personnel confirmed that officers had fired shots after the blast.
The Jamaat-ur-Ahrar faction of the Pakistani Taliban (which is also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban) claimed responsibility shortly after the incident.
"We claim the attack in Lahore because the government is killing our men in prison," Jamaat-ul-Ahrar spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said, according to Reuters. "We will get revenge for every man and our struggle will continue until Sharia is instituted in the country."
Eshan warned that the militant group would continue carrying out these attacks.
"We make it clear to these rulers that we will take revenge for the spilling of innocent Muslims' blood," he said. "Wait for us, our operations will continue until an Islamic system is put into place."
"[The attack] was a bid to sabotage Operation Zarb-e-Azb and the National Action Plan, which will continue no matter what will happen," Punjab Police Chief Inspector General Mushtaq Sukhera told VICE News. "Soon we will crush the terrorists and bring peace."
This was the third major incident in the country since the government revoked its moratorium on the death penalty in December. That month, Taliban gunmen waged a deadly school attack in Peshawar that killed 152 people, most of whom were children.
Tuesday's attack comes just three days after multiple suicide bombers blew themselves up at a Shia mosque in Peshawar during Friday prayers, leaving 20 people dead. At least four attackers were involved in the incident, although one of the assailant's vests failed to detonate.
The Taliban took responsibility for the attack, again citing the execution of its members as a motive. The militant group was also behind a January attack at a Shia mosque in the country's south that killed 60 people.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had previously tried to reach a peace agreement with the Taliban, but talks collapsed last year and a military mission commenced soon after to push the group out of North Waziristan — an area along the Afghan border where the group has a heavy presence.
Separately on Tuesday, multiple suicide bombers linked to the Taliban waged an attack on a police headquarters in Afghanistan, killing at least 22 officers.
Follow Kayla Ruble on Twitter: @RubleKB All photos provided by Mohammad Zubair Khan