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Asia-pacific

Deadly blast kills at least 24 in central Lahore

Video by Nicholas RUSHWORTH

Latest update : 2009-05-28

A car packed with explosives exploded in the centre of Lahore, the capital of Pakistan's eastern province of Punjab. Police say the blast killed at least 24 people and injured about three hundred others.

AFP - A suicide attack flattened a police building in Pakistan's city of Lahore on Wednesday, killing 24 people in a bomb that 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.
   
Three attackers opened fire and threw a grenade before a van packed with explosives blew up outside an emergency response building beside the provincial headquarters of Pakistan's premier intelligence agency, investigators said.
   
Authorities said more than 300 people were wounded.
   
"I heard firing and then a huge blast," said one policeman who staggered out of the rubble, saying that there were 30-35 policemen trapped inside.
   
"The wall collapsed on me. I was trapped in the wreckage and fell unconscious," said an elderly man, speaking to reporters from his hospital bed.
   
Rescue workers ferried out the injured on their backs, stumbling over the debris, while people tried to dig out bloodied bodies buried deep in rubble.
   
The blast damaged buildings in the security nerve centre of Lahore, two months after a deadly assault on a police academy near the eastern city 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," said Rathore.
   
A top security official told AFP after nightfall that 24 people died, including 13 policemen, civilians and security officers.
   
The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) building was partly damaged and an intelligence officer was killed in the blast, one security official told AFP.
   
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but a senior investigator told AFP the attack was the likely handiwork of Al-Qaeda linked Taliban militants operating from Pakistan's wild Waziristan, which borders Afghanistan.
   
One of the attackers was shot dead by security guards as he approached the building, and two others perished in the explosion, the investigator said.
   
"Enemies of Pakistan who want to destabilise the country are coming here after their defeat in Swat," Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters, linking the attack to the military's offensive against the Taliban.
   
"There is a war and this is a war for our survival," he added.
   
President Asif Ali Zardari accused militants of "trying to create panic among the people through such acts of barbarism", said a spokesman.
   
Anne Patterson, the US ambassador to Pakistan, condemned the bombing.
   
"These attacks serve only to highlight the vicious and inhuman nature of this enemy whose true target is the democratically elected government of Pakistan and the security of all Pakistanis," she said in a statement.
   
Washington has branded Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants holed up along Pakistan and Afghaistan's rugged border the biggest terror threat to the West, and strongly backs Islamabad's push against the rebels.
   
Pakistan's military has been locked in a month-long offensive against Taliban militants in the northwest, which the authorities say has killed about 1,200 extremists and sent 2.4 million people fleeing their homes.
   
In the capital Islamabad, police said they had arrested three men suspected of planning attacks on government installations.
   
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 five-million-dollar 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, killing eight Pakistanis and ending hopes of the country hosting international sport in the immediate future.
   
 

Date created : 2009-05-28

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