Sunday 11 December 2016

Carnage as 29 children bombed in Pakistan - death toll rises to 72

Mohammad Zubair

Published 29/03/2016 | 02:30

Family members mourn the death of a relative, who was killed in a blast that happened outside a public park on Sunday, in Lahore, Pakistan. Reuters/Mohsin Raza
Family members mourn the death of a relative, who was killed in a blast that happened outside a public park on Sunday, in Lahore, Pakistan. Reuters/Mohsin Raza
Relatives of the victims of the suicide bomb blast at a children's playground outside a hospital in Lahore Photo: EPA/REUTERS/Mohsin Raza
Funeral of one of the victims Photo: ARIF ALI/AFP/Getty Images

The full horror of the bomb that ripped through a children's play area, claiming 72 lives, emerged yesterday.

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Hundreds were left wounded after a suspected suicide bomber detonated the explosion in Pakistan, where Christian families were celebrating Easter.

The carnage was in a public park in the city of Lahore, just yards away from a set of swings.

Medical workers said the blast mainly killed women and children, while many of the wounded were in a critical condition and the death toll could rise even further.

The splinter group Jamaatul Ahrar, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack and said it had deliberately targeted Christians on Easter Sunday.

"We claim responsibility for the attack on Christians as they were celebrating Easter," a spokesperson for the terrorist group said.

"It was part of our annual martyrdom attacks we have started this year," he said, warning that more attacks would follow.

"We had been waiting for this occasion. We want to convey to the prime minister that we have arrived in Punjab and we will reach you."

Rescue spokeswoman Deeba Shahbaz said the toll had risen to 72 yesterday, with 29 children among the dead.

Haider Ashraf, a senior police official, confirmed the number killed, adding that the majority of the dead were Muslims.

Mr Ashraf said ball bearings were found on the ground after the attack, which he believed was a suicide bombing, and that an investigation was continuing.

The area was crowded with Christians who were celebrating the Easter holidays, he added, and many families were heading home when the blast struck.

"We are in a warlike situation," said Mr Ashraf, "there is always a general (terrorism)threat in Pakistan but no specific threat alert was received for this place."

Footage from local TV stations showed chaotic scenes as people fled the area, carrying their children or cradling the wounded.

Al-Khidma, a Lahore rescue worker, said: "Our ambulances lifted dozens of injured people to nearby hospitals. The majority are women and children."

Another medical worker said at least 300 people had been injured and he feared that the death toll would rise.

The Punjab government has announced three days of national mourning and the closure of all public parks in Pakistan. vowing to bring those behind the attack to trial.

Describing the moment of the blast, one man who was visiting the park with his wife and two children said he heard a huge bang before all four of them were thrown to the floor.

Another eyewitness saw pools of blood and body parts scattered across the park after the smoke had cleared.

"It was the weekend, so there were a large number of families there, women and children in the park," he said.

Former Lahore police captain Muhammad Usman said police had recovered parts of the bomber from the scene and were seeking to identify him.

"The blast was a suicide attack, it was just outside the exit gate of the Gulshan Iqbal Park and a few metres away from the children's swings," he said.

Javed Ali (35), who lives near the park, said: "Everything was shaking, there were cries and dust everywhere.

"After 10 minutes, I went outside. There was human flesh on the walls of our house. People were crying, I could hear ambulances."

He added: "It was overcrowded because of Easter, there were a lot of Christians there. It was so crowded that I told my family not to go."

Pakistan has been struggling to control a homegrown Islamist insurgency since 2004, with the Pakistani Taliban frequently carrying out attacks in an attempt to overthrow the government. Last year, a popular regional minister was killed along with eight others in a bomb attack on his home.

The blast comes just days after police in the capital of Islamabad clashed with thousands of supporters of an Islamist assassin, who was hanged earlier this year for killing a regional governor. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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