LAHORE, Pakistan – A Taliban suicide bomber who attacked a Pakistani park thronging with families was targeting Christians, the group said Monday, March 28, as the death toll rose to 72, with children making up nearly half of the dead.
More than 200 people were hurt when explosives packed with ball bearings ripped through crowds near a children’s play area in the park in Lahore, where many had gathered to celebrate Easter.
“We carried out the Lahore attack as Christians are our target,” Ehansullah Ehsan, spokesman for the hardline Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), told Agence France-Presse by telephone from an undisclosed location.
He said the group would carry out more such attacks, vowing to target schools and colleges alongside government and military interests.
The attack was the worst so far this year in a country well-used to large-scale atrocities, and will further undermine already-fractious community ties in the huge Muslim-majority nation.
Rescue spokeswoman Deeba Shahbaz said the toll had risen to 72 Monday, with 29 children among the dead. Senior police official Haider Ashraf confirmed the number killed, adding the majority of the dead were Muslims.
Many wounded children were taken to Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital, some clearly in pain as doctors examined injuries to their legs, arms and faces Monday.
Doctors had described frenzied scenes at hospitals in the immediate aftermath of the attack, with staff treating casualties on floors and in corridors, as officials tweeted calls for blood donations.
Three days of mourning
Schools and other government institutions were open, but 3 days of mourning have been announced in Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital, said commissioner Abdullah Sumbal.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed his “grief and sorrow over the sad demise of innocent lives”.
His Indian counterpart Narendra Modi telephoned to say “the people of India stand with their Pakistani brethren in this hour of grief,” state media reported.
Powerful military chief General Raheel Sharif vowed to bring those responsible to justice and said he “will never allow these savage inhumans to over run our life and liberty”, according to a military spokesman.
The US labeled the incident “cowardly”, while Pakistan’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai tweeted: “Pakistan and the world must unite. Every life is precious and must be respected and protected.”
The Vatican condemned the attack, calling it “fanatical violence against Christian minorities,” and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for Islamabad to protect religious minorities.
Christians make up an estimated 1.6% of the Pakistan’s 200 million people, the vast majority of which are Muslim, and have long faced discrimination. – Agence France-Presse / Rappler.com
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