|Pakistani relatives of injured victims gather outside the hospital in Lahore on Sunday, after at least 65 people were killed and more than 300 injured when an apparent suicide bomb ripped through the parking lot of a crowded park in the Pakistani city of Lahore where Christians were celebrating Easter.— AFP PHOTO|
LAHORE, Pakistan – At least 65 people have been killed and hundreds injured, many of them children, when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowded Pakistani park where Christians were celebrating Easter.
Explosives packed with ball bearings ripped through crowds near a children’s play area in the park in Lahore, leaving dozens dead or bloodied.
Witnesses on Sunday described children screaming as people carried the injured in their arms, while frantic relatives searched for loved ones.
Javed Ali, a 35-year-old who lives opposite the park near the centre of the city, said the force of the blast shattered the windows of his home.
"After 10 minutes I went outside. There was human flesh on the walls of our house. People were crying, I could hear ambulances," he said.
"It was overcrowded because of Easter, there were a lot of Christians there. It was so crowded I told my family not to go." Doctors described frenzied scenes at hospitals, with staff treating casualties on floors and in corridors, as officials tweeted calls for blood donations.
Witnesses said the wounded were first rushed to hospital in rickshaws and other vehicles before dozens of ambulances arrived on the scene.
Lahore’s top administration official, Muhammad Usman, said 65 people had been killed in the suicide attack, and more than 50 children were among the injured.
"The bomber managed to enter the park and blew himself up near the kids’ playing area where kids were on the swings," he said.
’Hour of grief’
A splinter group of the Pakistan Taliban said it carried out the attack, according to the website of the Express Tribune.
"We claim responsibility for the attack on Christians as they were celebrating Easter," a spokesperson for Jamaatul Ahrar was quoted as saying.
Officials said the toll – already the highest in an attack this year – was expected to rise.
A Lahore rescue official confirmed 65 people were dead, and said the number of injured stood at 340.
Facebook activated its safety check system, so people could tell friends and relatives they were safe, but a glitch meant notifications were sent to people all over the world.
The company later apologised, but some users said the error meant news of the attack spread more quickly than it might otherwise have done.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed his "grief and sorrow over the sad demise of innocent lives." His Indian counterpart Narendra Modi telephoned to say "the people of India stand with their Pakistani brethren in this hour of grief," state media reported.
The US labelled the incident "cowardly," while Pakistan’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai tweeted: "Pakistan and the world must unite. Every life is precious and must be respected and protected." A military spokesman said intelligence agencies were chasing all leads while the government of Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital, declared three days of mourning.
The Vatican condemned the attack, calling it "fanatical violence against Christian minorities," and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for Islamabad to protect religious minorities.
Christians make up an estimated 1.6 per cent of the Pakistan’s 200 million people, the vast majority of which are Muslim, and have long faced discrimination.
Twin suicide attacks against churches in Lahore killed 17 people in March last year, sparking two days of rioting by thousands of Christians. — AFP