At least 65 people – mostly women and children – have been killed at a crowded park in Pakistan in a suicide blast that also wounded more than 300 people, officials said. A faction of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, later claimed responsibility for the attack in the eastern city of Lahore and said that it was aimed at Christians.
Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder, reporting from the capital Islamabad, said Christians were celebrating Easter Sunday at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, which is popular with families, when the bomber blew himself up a few metres from a children’s play area. On Monday, authorities said they would launch a manhunt for those behind the attack after Jamaat-ul-Ahrar issued a direct challenge to the government.
“We want to send this message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered Lahore,” a spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said. “He can do what he wants but he won’t be able to stop us. Our suicide bombers will continue these attacks.” The group claimed responsibility for several big attacks after it split with the main Pakistani Taliban in 2014. It declared allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant but later said it was rejoining the Taliban campaign.
“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. TV footage showed children and women standing in pools of blood outside the park, crying and screaming as rescue workers, officials, police and bystanders carried injured people to ambulances and private cars.