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27 May 2009 12:30
A suicide car bomb attack on Wednesday flattened a police building in the Pakistan city of Lahore, killing 23 people in what the government branded revenge for an offensive against the Taliban.
The blast—the third deadly attack to rock the country’s liberal cultural capital in as many months—points to a widening net of Islamist violence which has killed more than 1 800 people across Pakistan in less than two years.
Up to five attackers opened fire and threw grenades before a van packed with explosives blew up outside a police emergency response building beside the provincial headquarters of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency, police said.
There were two attackers inside the vehicle but they failed to storm the checkpoint, instead hitting the barrier, exploding into a ball of fire on the road and flattening the building, police and administration officials said.
Authorities said more than 300 people were wounded in the attack.
“I heard firing and then a huge blast,” said one policeman who staggered out of the rubble, saying that there were 30 to 35 policemen inside.
“The building collapsed. I was at the back of the building and am fortunately alive,” he told reporters.
Rescue workers ferried out the injured on their backs, stumbling over the debris, while people tried to dig out one man in a traditional white shirt who lay trapped and helpless under stones and wooden planks.
The blast, which some witnesses likened to an earthquake, damaged nearby buildings in the security nerve centre of Lahore, two months after a deadly assault on a police academy near Lahore claimed by the Taliban.
“The initial investigation shows that the attackers first fired at the police and security pickets at the corner of the building and then an explosives-laden Toyota van blew up,” said Lahore police chief Pervaiz Rathore.
“The terrorists also threw hand grenades but they could not penetrate the building.
The death toll is 22 to 23 and the number of wounded exceeds 300.
The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) building was partly damaged and an intelligence officer killed in the blast, one security official told AFP.
There was no immediate claim for the blast but immediate suspicion fell on Taliban and Al-Qaeda linked groups as the authorities branded the attack revenge for its latest offensive against the Taliban in the northwest.
“Enemies of Pakistan who want to destabilise the country are coming here after their defeat in Swat,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters.
“There is a war and this is a war for our survival,” he added.
Pakistan’s military has been locked in a month-long offensive against Taliban militants in three regions of the northwest, which the authorities say has killed around 1 190 extremists and sent 2,4-million people fleeing their homes.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the blast and blamed “state enemies” for the carnage, as he expressed his condolences for the loss of life.
The chief of Lahore’s city administration, Sajjad Bhutta, said 23 people were killed in the attack and around 250 others wounded.
Police and witnesses said 30 to 35 policemen were trapped under the rubble.
Lahore police chief Rathore said he ordered no one to be discharged from hospital without police verifying the credentials of the injured, amid suspicions that three assailants managed to slip away.
Lahore has been increasingly rocked by violent attacks.
On March 30, attackers armed with guns, grenades and suicide vests stormed a police training centre on the outskirts of the city, unleashing eight hours of gun battles and killing seven police cadets and a civilian.
That attack was claimed by Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud—a man with a $5-million bounty on his head offered by the United States—who threatened to carry out further attacks across the country.
On March 3, gunmen ambushed the Sri Lankan cricket team bus in Lahore on its way to a test match with Pakistan that left eight Pakistanis dead and ended hopes of the country hosting international sport in the immediate future.—AFP
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