x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Lahore braced for more blasts after suicide bombings

Three bombings in one day in Punjabi capital claim dozens of lives and injure 100 in a sign of resurgence by the militants.

LAHORE // The provincial capital of Punjab was last night bracing itself for further attacks after twin suicide explosions killed 45 people and wounded more than a hundred. A series of smaller explosions were heard later in the evening including one at around 9pm in Moon marketplace located in Allama Iqbal Town, a busy area of Lahore crammed with residences, shops and offices.

Earlier in the day, 10-year-old Abdullah Farooq was sitting in his classroom at the Lahore Grammar School Landmark Project in Lahore Cantonment, when the building was violently shaken by an explosion. His teacher told him not to panic but 30 seconds later a second, more powerful explosion took place in RA bazaar only a few hundred metres from the school and close to a military compound. The twin blasts were the second assault on security forces in Pakistan's second largest city in a week, after a period of relative calm.

"It's a sign that the militants were simply lying low," said Lahore-based political analyst Hassan Askari. "They were just waiting for the right time to strike." Most reports, including statements by the police and army, revealed that two bombers walked up to military vehicles parked outside mosques in the crowded market and detonated their bombs. The explosions took place around the time of Friday prayers when the area was at its busiest.

A shopkeeper, Adnan Khan, who filmed the blasts as they happened, said there was complete mayhem. "It was insane," he said. "There was smoke everywhere and everyone was screaming." His footage, later broadcast by a private television channel, showed people running from the scene. Mr Khan's voice can be heard saying "Oh my God, oh my God." "The earth under our feet was moving away - it was like an earthquake," said Sobia Ahmed, a student.

"Nine soldiers were among those killed and more than a hundred wounded," said Tariq Saleem Dogar, the Punjab provincial chief police officer. He added that the heads of the two bombers had been recovered along with other evidence which would help police identify who was responsible. So far no militant group has accepted responsibility but Monday's Lahore attack was claimed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban, apparently as revenge for the military's campaign against the Pakistani Taliban in Waziristan.

The drop in attacks in the first two months of the year was being used by the government as evidence of their ability to clamp down on militants. "The militants know the government is now determined to hunt them down," said Rasool Baksh Raees, a professor of political science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. Some analysts say the recent escalation may be in retaliation for the killing of a top-leader of the Pakistani Taliban Qari Zafar in a US drone strike in Waziristan.

A statement attributed to the Pakistani Taliban spokesman after the attack on Monday claimed that more than 3,000 suicide bombers would be let loose on the country unless the army made a decision to halt US drone strikes and stop its own operations in Waziristan. In the past 12 months thousands of people, many of them civilians, have been murdered in suicide bombings across the country. @Email:foreign.desk@thenational.ae