LAHORE: At least 72 people were killed in a suicide blast that took place in Lahore's crowded Gulshan-i-Iqbal park on Sunday evening, police confirmed on Monday. At least 300 others were injured.
Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Operations Dr Haider Ashraf said the death toll had risen to 72 overnight.
In the wake of the attack, the Punjab government declared an emergency in Lahore and announced three days of mourning. Schools and markets were closed in the provincial capital on Monday.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar on Monday paid a visit to the injured admitted to Jinnah Hospital for treatment.
PM Nawaz also chaired a meeting at Prime Minister House to review the security situation in Lahore. The prime minister was briefed on the attack by his security advisers, a PM Office statement said, adding: "Key decisions to respond to the situation were taken and directions were issued."
A First-Information Report was lodged by the Counter-Terrorism Department Lahore against four suspects under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act and various sections of the Pakistan Penal Code.
The FIR claims four suspicious individuals were stopped at the gate of the park, one of whom got into the park and blew himself up. The other three, taking advantage of the rush at the scene, were able to slip away, it says.
A five member joint interrogation team comprising officials from police, ISI and IB was constituted by the Punjab government late Monday night to probe the attack.
The powerful blast ripped through a massively crowded area of the park adjacent to Gate 1 which houses swings, train and some other attractions for children.
Witnesses said the crowd included a large number of Christian families celebrating Easter, Dawn Newspaper reported.
Witnesses said the blast was so massive and fatal that there were pools of blood and scattered body parts in the park. The injured were seen crying for help and women running to find their children.
The incident raised a big question mark over the ‘security measures’ especially in the wake of terror threats.
Lahore CCPO retired Capt Amin Wains, quoting initial police inquiries, said the park was pathetically managed by the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) and its boundary walls – only four to five feet in height – were easily scalable.
He said the PHA management was responsible for frisking the visitors and 40 private guards were manning the recreational facility spanning over 2.5 km area for security.
He ruled out a security lapse on the part of police and said two mobile squads had been stationed at the main gate of the park.
Police investigate blast
DIG Operations Haider Ashraf said that at least 15 to 20 kg explosive material had been used by the suicide bomber. He said that police found the ‘skull’ of the suspect from the blast site and sent it for forensic analysis.
To a question about the motive behind the terrorism, he said it would be premature to say anything at this stage. "However, the terrorist hit a very soft target of women and children," he said.
An identity card police found from the site of the blast may be of the alleged suicide bomber.
The DIG Operations said that according to initial inquiry, Yousuf, a young man from Muzaffargarh, might be the bomber.
He said four friends of Yousuf had been detained by Muzaffargarh police from Basti Sohrani for questioning.
A witness, who was running a stall near the blast site, told reporters that a suspect aged between 20 and 30 was seen roaming in the park. He said one of the security guards of the Park had questioned him for his presence and then left him unattended.
Sunday's attack was claimed by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar, who also claimed last year's twin suicide bombings at churches in Lahore's Youhanabad area, which killed at least 15 people and sparked violent protests across the city.
Eye witnesses recalled pools of blood and scattered body parts spread across the site of the attack.
Witnesses said they could hear children screaming as people carried the injured in their arms, while frantic relatives searched for loved ones in nightmarish scenes at the park near the centre of the city.
"We took the injured to hospitals on rickshaws and taxis," one eye witness said.
He added that the crowd was "unusually large" because of Easter.
"The roads were also jammed and queues of vehicles could be seen till Moon Market."
Doctors described frenzied scenes at hospitals, with staff treating casualties on floors and in corridors, as officials tweeted calls for blood donations.
Javed Ali, a 35-year-old who lives opposite the park, said the force of the blast had shattered his home's windows.
“After ten minutes I went outside. There was human flesh on the walls of our house. People were crying, I could hear ambulances.”
Yousaf Masih, a father who was searching for his family, told AFP: “My kids came here (to the park). I was at home, I saw the news on TV, but my wife and children were here.”
Gen Raheel chairs military huddle after blast
Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif chaired a high-level meeting late Sunday night, which was attended by heads of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Military Intelligence (MI) among other military officials, said Lt Gen Asim Bajwa on Twitter.
The army chief ordered concerned commanders and intelligence officials to immediately start operations to nab perpetrators of the attack, said Bajwa.
Gen Raheel said these “inhumane savages will not be allowed to overrun our life and liberty.”
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also chaired a meeting at the PM House where he was briefed by his security advisers on the Lahore attack, said a statement released from his office.
Modi calls Nawaz, condemns Lahore attack
Indian premier Narendra Modi telephoned PM Nawaz after the Lahore blast that killed at least 70, and expressed his condolences.
Terming the attack as cowardly for targeting women and children, Modi underlined the need for ‘uncompromising efforts’ to fight terror.
Premier Nawaz Sharif condemned the blast and directed authorities to ensure "special medical care" to the injured.
"My children, brothers and sisters have been targeted in this attack," Nawaz said in a statement.
The Vatican also condemned the attack, calling it "fanatical violence against Christian minorities", and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for Islamabad to protect religious minorities.
Additional reporting by Ali Akbar from Peshawar