ISLAMABAD. — Pakistani authorities yesterday hunted members of a Taliban faction which once declared loyalty to Islamic State after the group claimed responsibility for an Easter suicide bomb targeting Christians that killed at least 70 people. “We must bring the killers of our innocent brothers, sisters and children to justice and will never allow these savage inhumans to over-run our life and liberty,” military spokesman Asim Bajwa said on Twitter.
“A number of suspect terrorists and facilitators (have been) arrested and huge cache of arms and ammunition (was) recovered,” he continued, without giving further details.
Hundreds were also wounded, officials said. Most victims were women and children. Meanwhile, families of the victims killed in the massive suicide bombing targeting Pakistani Christians in Lahore have started burying their relatives as a nationwide three-day mourning period began.
The bombing was claimed by a breakaway Taliban faction, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, that has before publicly supported the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group. Even though Sunday’s bombing targeted mainly Christians, most of those killed in Lahore were Muslims, who were also in the park on Easter Sunday.
Of the dead, at least 14 had been identified as Christians, according to Lahore Police Superintendent Mohammed Iqbal.
Another 12 bodies have not yet been identified, he said. In response, Pakistan says it will launch a special paramilitary crackdown in Punjab, the country’s most richest and populous province.
The offensive would give paramilitary Rangers extraordinary powers to conduct raids and interrogate suspects similar to those the Rangers have used for more than two years in the southern city of Karachi, a senior security official based in Lahore told the Reuters news agency on the condition of anonymity.
The suicide bomber detonated himself just metres away from children’s rides in the Gulshan-i-Iqbal park, or Garden of Iqbal, of Allama Iqbal Town. The park is named after Sir Muhammed Iqbal, a prominent Pakistani poet and philosopher who died in Lahore in 1938.
The bombing marked Pakistan’s deadliest attack since the December 2014 massacre of more than 130 school children at a military-run academy in the city of Peshawar that prompted a big government crackdown on hardline groups.
Sunday’s blast underscored both the precarious position of Pakistan’s minorities and the fact that the fighters from armed groups are still capable of staging wide-scale assaults despite the months-long military offensive targeting their hideouts and safe havens in remote tribal areas.
Ahsanullah Ahsan, a spokesman for Jamaat-ul-Ahrar told the Associated Press news agency late on Sunday that the suicide bomber deliberately targeted the Christian community celebrating Easter.
The same group — which has vowed to continue such attacks — also took responsibility for the twin bombings of a Christian Church in Lahore last year. — Al Jazeera/Herald Reporter/Agencies.