At least 16 people were killed and 83 others wounded Monday after a large bomb exploded at a protest rally in eastern Pakistan, a senior police official said.
Mushtaq Sukhera, inspector general of police in Punjab province, said five police officers were among the dead when an explosion rocked a protest organized by Pakistan’s chemists and pharmaceuticals manufacturers, Reuters reported. They were calling out new amendments to a law governing drug sales.
“It was a suicide attack. The bomber exploded himself when successful negotiations were underway between police officials and the protesters,” Sukhera told reporters.
A spokesman for Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, called Reuters and claimed responsibility saying it was revenge for Pakistani military operations against Islamic militants in tribal regions along the Afghan border.
The militant group also warned the Lahore attack was the start of a new campaign against government departments. “You are on our target across the country,” it added in a statement.
Jamaat-ur-Ahrar had also claimed responsibility for an Easter Day bombing in Lahore last year that killed more than 70 people in a public park.
“We just couldn’t understand what happened,” Tufail Nabi told local Geo News TV. “It was as if some big building collapsed,” he said as he limped away.
The pharmacists reportedly were holding a sit-in at the time.
— SAMAA TV (@SAMAATV) February 13, 2017
Live TV broadcast a loud bang and showed smoke billowing up as people ran away, some of them carrying the wounded, Fox News reported. Cars near the blast site caught fire as thick smoke filled the air.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar is one of several splinter groups from the Pakistani Taliban, which has carried out scores of attacks against security forces and religious minorities. In recent years, Pakistan has had launched several offensives against the Taliban and other Islamic militant groups in the tribal regions.
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