By Aamir Latif
KARACHI, Pakistan (AA): At least 17 people were killed, including eight police personnel, and over 90 injured in two separate blasts in northwest and southwest Pakistan on Monday, officials and local media reported.
In the first incident, some 15 people, including six policemen, were killed and over 80 injured when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden vest at a busy site in the northeastern city of Lahore on Monday evening, officials said.
The blast occurred during a protest of pharmaceutical companies outside the State Assembly of Punjab, of which Lahore is the capital.
Mushtaq Sukhera of the Punjab police told reporters that Lahore’s chief traffic officer, Ahmed Mubeen, and a senior superintendent of police, Zahid Gondal, were among the dead.
He said 15 casualties had been confirmed by the police and health officials.
The injured included three journalists, as the suicide bomber blew himself up near a satellite van of a local TV station, the police said.
Local TV channels aired footage showing a man approaching the satellite van parked near the protesters when the blast occurred.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a consortium of various Pakistani militant groups, and its allies claimed responsibility for the attack. In a statement to the media, Asad Mansur, a purported spokesman of Jamat-ul-Ahrar, a TTP splinter group, claimed that the suicide attack was done jointly by the two groups.
He warned the government to “get ready for more attacks” in the days to come.
TV footage showed policemen and protesters carrying the injured on their shoulders while running towards ambulances and private vehicles, as traffic congestion made it hard for ambulances to get the injured to hospitals.
Giant plumes of thick smoke and flames billowed upward as several vehicles parked across the road caught fire soon after the blast.
Blood-soaked caps, shoes, pieces of clothes, and human flesh strewed the tree-lined site of the blast as army units were called in to join the rescue operation.
The blast is a stark reminder of a March 2016 suicide blast at a public park that killed over 70 people in Lahore, the country’s second-largest city and its cultural hub.
The city administration, for its part, declared an emergency at city hospitals and appealed for blood donations. Doctors fear a rise in the death toll as several injured were said to be in critical condition.
– Balochistan attack
In another blast, two policemen were killed and nine others injured in Quetta, the capital of the southwestern Balochistan province, hours after the Lahore suicide attack, police said.
The blast occurred at the city’s busy Saryab Road when bomb disposal unit officials were trying to defuse a bomb planted under a bridge, Quetta Police Chief Abdul Razzak Cheema told reporters.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a hardline Sunni sectarian group which has been active in Quetta for over a decade, claimed responsibility for the blast.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attacks, vowing that his country would not shrink from war against terrorism through these cowardly acts. He ordered the police and intelligence authorities to flush out terrorists involved in the attacks.
In June 2014 Pakistan launched a full-scale military onslaught on the TTP and its allies in restive North Waziristan and adjoining tribal regions near the Afghan border. The army claims to have killed over 5,000 suspected militants, while more than 700 troops have also been killed in clashes and landmine blasts during this period.
The military operation also displaced over a million tribesmen, mainly from North Waziristan, and the army says over 80 percent have since returned to their homes.
[Photo: Pakistani security members and officials carry injured people after bomb blast outside the Punjab Assembly in Lahore, Pakistan on February 13, 2017. Photographer: Muhabiri Rana Irfan Ali/AA]