LAHORE: At least 60 people were killed on Sunday in a blast near the Wagah border, the responsibility of which was claimed separately by the outlawed Jundullah and TTP-affiliated Jamaat-ul-Ahrar outfits.
Victims include 10 women and seven children, while more than 110 people have been injured.
Punjab police chief Inspector General Mushtaq Sukhera told AP that the bomb exploded outside a restaurant near a paramilitary soldiers' checkpoint at Wagah border on the outskirts of Lahore city. He also added that the explosion could have been the result of a suicide blast.
|Relatives gather around the bodies of blast victims after a suicide bomb attack near the Wagah border. -AFP Photo|
Lahore police chief Amin Wains confirmed it was a suicide attack. “People were returning after watching the parade at Wagah border when the blast took place. Ball bearings were found at the scene,” he said.
Emergency has been declared at all hospitals in Lahore. Prime Nawaz Sharif has taken notice of the explosion and called for a report on the incident.
Wagah is the only road border crossing between the Indian city of Amritsar and the Pakistani city of Lahore.
An Indian security official told Reuters that the Indian side of Wagah border is “safe” after blast on Pakistani side.
TTP splinter groups claim responsibility
The Jamaat-ul-Ahrar splinter group of the proscribed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the Wagah border attack as its spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, speaking to Dawn on telephone from Afghanistan, said it was carried out by one of their men.
When asked if it was more than one suicide bomber, he said one man carried out the attack.
"We will continue such attacks in the future," Ehsan said.
"Some other groups have claimed responsibility of this attack, but these claims are baseless. We will soon release the video of this attack," he said.
"This attack is revenge for the killing of innocent people in North Waziristan," the banned militant group's spokesman said.
Earlier Jundullah, another outlawed group which was behind a suicide bombing that killed at least 78 Christians at a church in Peshawar last September, had also claimed responsibility for the Wagah border attack.
The spokesman of the splinter group of the TTP Ahmed Marwat via telephone said that the attack is a reaction to military operation Zarb-i-Azb and Waziristan operation.
Jundullah and the much larger Pakistani Taliban are among loosely aligned militant groups that frequently share personnel, tactics and agendas. Claims for specific incidents are often hard to verify.
The group has claimed various attacks including the October 23 attack on Maulana Fazlur Rehman in Quetta .
On September 22, 2013, a twin suicide bomb attack had killed 127 people at a Peshawar church. This was the deadliest attack on the Christian minority in the history of Pakistan. Jundallah had wasted no time in accepting responsibility of this attack too.
18 Shia Muslims traveling from Rawalpindi to Gilgit-Baltistan on a bus in February 2012 were stopped in Kohistan and massacred based on their religious affiliation by individuals dressed in Military uniforms. Jundallah had also claimed responsibility for the act by contacting the media.
In June 2013, Jundallah had claimed responsibility for the killing of tourists and their Pakistani guide in Gilgit–Baltistan. The tourists were mountain-climbers who had hoped to climb Nanga Parbat. The dead included five Ukrainians, three Chinese, and their guide.
Scenes at the hospital
As most of the dead and injured were shifted to the nearby Ghurki Hospital, reporters said the premises was swarming with police, security agencies and the families of victims.
Hospital administration confirmed that at least 40 dead and over 50 injured have been received by hospital authorities.
“We received 35 bodies including those of women and children and 60 to 70 were wounded,” Deputy Medical Superintendent of Ghurki Hospital near the Wagah border crossing, identified only as Dr Khurram, told domestic television channels earlier.
Later, medical superintendent Dr Iftikhar confirmed that over 100 people have been brought to Ghurki Hospital. More injured have been shifted to Lahore hospitals as GH does not have the capacity to treat further patients.
Timing of explosion
The explosion reportedly took place as the Rangers concluded the ceremony at Wagah, and the flags were being lowered.
For years, a military flag-lowering ceremony that takes place every evening at the Wagah border post, which draws crowds of partisan tourists who cheer every hostile strut and stare traded by the border guards on both sides.
DG Rangers confirms suicide blast
Director General Rangers Punjab Khan Tahir Khan confirmed that the explosion is a suicide blast.
"The parade venue is about 600 metres ahead of the blast site. Because of the strict checking the suicide bomber detonated the bomb away from the parade venue."
Footage shows shops and nearby buildings destroyed at the site of the blast. Security and rescue personnel rushed to the site of the blast.
Journalists have been instructed to clear the area, which the Rangers have cordoned off for security reasons. Forensic teams are currently present at the site and are collecting evidence as part of the investigation.
An eyewitness speaking to DawnNews said people were coming out of the shops when the bomb explosion took place."There were several bodies at the scene of the blast. It was a very powerful blast.”