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Suicide Bomber Kills Dozens — Mostly Women and Children — at Park in Lahore, Pakistan

A faction of the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the blast, which targeted a park crowded with families celebrating Easter.

by VICE News and Reuters
Mar 27 2016, 4:35pm

Photo by Mohsin Raza/Reuters

A suicide bomber killed at least 65 people, including many women and children, at a public park in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Sunday, according to government officials and police.

The blast occurred in the parking area of Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, a few feet away from children's swings. Around 280 others were injured in the explosion, officials said.

A faction of the Pakistani Taliban has reportedly claimed responsibility for the bombing. The radio news service VOA Deewa, which broadcasts to the tribal regions along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, reported on Twitter that Ihsanullah Ihsan, a spokesman for the militant group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, said the attack specifically targeted members of Pakistan's Christian community on Easter. Ihsan also reportedly said the bombing was motivated by the Zarb-e-Azb operation, a recent Pakistani military offensive against militant groups in the tribal areas.

Eyewitnesses said they saw body parts strewn across the parking lot once the dust had settled after the blast.

The park had been particularly busy on Sunday evening due to the Easter holiday weekend.

"Most of the dead and injured are women and children," said Mustansar Feroz, police superintendent for the area in which the park is located.

Media footage showed children and women crying and screaming and rescue officials, police and bystanders carrying injured people to ambulances and private cars. Local television channels reported that many of the dead bodies were being kept in hospital wards as morgues were overcrowded.

"We were just here to have a nice evening and enjoy the weather," Nasreen Bibi said at the Services Hospital, crying as she waited for doctors to update her on the condition of her two-year-old injured daughter.

"May God shower his wrath upon these attackers. What kind of people target little children in a park?"

Soon after the attack, the Punjab government ordered all public parks to be closed and announced three days of mourning in the province. The main shopping areas were shut down and many of the city's main roads were deserted.

The White House issued a statement condemning the "appalling terrorist attack" in "the strongest terms."

"This cowardly act in what has been a scenic and placid park has killed dozens of innocent civilians and left scores injured," said National Security Council spokesman Ned Price.

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

Punjab, the home province of President Nawaz Sharif, has traditionally been more peaceful than other parts of Pakistan. Sharif's opponents have accused him of tolerating militancy in return for peace in his province, a charge he strongly denies.

Last year, a bomb killed a popular Pakistani provincial minister and at least eight others when it destroyed the minister's home in Punjab.

Last March, two suicide bombers targeted St John's Catholic Church and Christ Church during Sunday services in a Christian neighborhood of Lahore. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for those attacks, which killed 15 people, injured 70 others, and triggered three days of angry protests. Amid the chaos, two men were mistaken by militants, pursued by a lynch mob, and killed.

In 2013, 85 people were killed when suicide bombers attacked the All Saints church in Peshawar, a gleaming white, mosque-like building that was meant to symbolize interfaith harmony. That attack was believed to be the deadliest to target Pakistan's Christians, which comprise just 2 percent of the population in the predominantly Muslim nation. Jundallah, another Taliban-linked group, was behind that attack.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar also claimed responsibility for three other attacks in 2014.

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