Pakistan border bombing death toll rises to 60
WAGAH, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistanis mourned on Monday for the victims of a massive suicide bombing near the border with India as the death toll from the explosion the previous day rose to 60, police said.
The attack, for which a Taliban splinter faction claimed responsibility, was the deadliest to hit the country in over a year. In September 2013, a suicide bombing killed at least 85 people in a church in Peshawar province.
Pakistan has seen a lull of sorts since mid-June, when the military launched a major offensive against militants in North Waziristan, a restive tribal area in the northwest, bordering Afghanistan. The army says its offensive has killed over 1,200 insurgents.
In Sunday’s attack, the bomber detonated his explosives near a paramilitary checkpoint close to the Wagah border crossing with India, as hundreds of Pakistanis were returning from watching a military parade on the outskirts of Lahore.
Archrivals Pakistan and India hold daily parades and flag-flying ceremonies on their respective sides of the border, drawing thousands of spectators. The parades are meant to be a show of strength between the foes — the two nuclear-powered nations have fought three wars since they jointly gained independence from the British empire in 1947.
The Pakistani Taliban splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in revenge for the army’s operations in North Waziristan and the killing of their fellow militants there. Ahrar broke off from the Taliban in August, after several commanders had a falling out with the rest of the Taliban leadership.
“We will continue such attacks,” the group’s spokesman, Ahsanullah Ahsan, told The Associated Press. He spoke over the phone from an undisclosed location.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the attack “in the strongest terms.” In a statement released by his spokesman, Ban urged the Pakistani authorities to “bring those responsible to justice.”
Sunday’s attack also wounded more than 100 people, who were still hospitalized, said police official Nadeem Khokhar. Relatives of those killed cried and wailed outside Lahore hospitals and police stations on Monday, demanding the bodies of the victims be handed over to their families for burial.
Pakistan went ahead with the daily parade near the Indian border on Monday, despite initially announcing the event would be cancelled for the next three days.
“Such cowardly attacks cannot defeat us and our nation,” army Gen. Naveed Zaman said during Monday’s ceremony near the Wagah crossing. He thanked “thousands who have come here to defy the terrorists’ designs.”
India cancelled its ceremony for three days, according to Ashok Kumar, an official with the Indian Border Security Force. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attack, describing it as a “dastardly act of terrorism.”
The militants in North Waziristan — including the Pakistani Taliban and affiliated militant groups — have been waging a war against the Pakistani state for over a decade, aiming to topple the government, and have killed thousands of people. Since the military offensive, the militants have been on the run, some of them moving to other tribal areas or fleeing to neighboring Afghanistan.
Security has been boosted in all major Pakistani cities to thwart possible attacks on minority Shiite Muslims as they observe Ashoura, a 10-day ritual commemorating the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
But, Khokhar, the police officer, said there was no Shiite procession in the Wagah border area when the bombing happened. He said police later found another bomb and an explosives vest near the attack site.
Associated Press Writers Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Nirmala George in New Delhi and Ron DePasquale at the United Nations contributed to this report.