At least 70 people, mostly women and children, were killed and more than 300 others were injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a children’s park in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province on Sunday evening, officials said.
“A large number of people, majority of them women and children, were present in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore when the suicide bomber blew himself up. Mostly women and children are killed and injured in the blast,” Said Lahore Police Chief Dr. Haider Ashraf.
The police chief said there was an unusual rush of the people in the park due to the weekend and Easter. He said a large number of Christian community celebrating the holy day were present in the park.
“Most of the dead and injured are women and children,” said Mustansar Feroz, the police superintendent for the area in which the park is located.
Police officials said they had recovered the body of the suicide bomber. He seems to be between 25 and 30 years old, he said.
A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar (TTP-JA), headed by Maulvi Omar Khalid Khurasani claimed responsibility for the suicide attack in Lahore.
The group spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, called NBC News from an undisclosed location while using an Afghan cell number and said they carried out the attack.
“Members of the Christian community who were celebrating Easter today were our prime target,” the spokesman said.
Asked if women and children were their target as most of those killed in the blast included women and children, the Taliban spokesman said they were not on their list.
“We didn’t want to kill women and children. Our targets were male members of the Christian community,” Ehsan said. He said this was the first of series of attacks they had planned this year in different parts of the country.
Punjab Health Minister Salman Rafique said they had declared emergency in all the hospitals of Lahore city to better handle the injured.
“We are in a state of emergency. All the hospitals are under emergency. All ambulances had been called to site of the blast as a large number of people, the majority of them women and children are injured,” the health minister said.
Media footage showed children and women crying and screaming and rescue officials, police and bystanders carrying injured people to ambulances and private cars.
Punjab Chief Minister, Shabaz Sharif later announced a three-day mourning in the province.
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 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.