Jul 18

Taliban factions claim Pakistan suicide-bomb attack

Delhi: Three factions of the Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for a powerful suicide-bomb attack that killed 55 people and injured 200 on the Pakistani side of the Wagah crossing with India, exacerbating tensions along the partly contested border that has seen several deadly skirmishes in recent weeks.

The suicide bomber, who was in his early 20s and was carrying about five kilograms of explosives inside a jacket, managed to pass through four security checkpoints before detonating the bomb just after 6pm on Sunday outside a restaurant near the iconic border crossing.

Hundreds of people visit the Wagah border crossing near the Pakistani city of Lahore every day to witness the flags of both India and Pakistan being lowered just before sunset.

“I was sitting in my office near the border when I heard the blast. I rushed to the scene and saw scattered bodies, injured men, women and children and smashed cars,” a Pakistani intelligence source told the Reuters news agency.

“He detonated his explosives when people gathered near the gate. Up to five kilograms of explosives and ball bearings were used,” said Pakistani Police Inspector General Mushtaq Sukhera.  “A large number of people were returning after watching the Pakistani Rangers flag ceremony at Wagah border when a suicide bomber blew himself up near one of the exit gates.”

Pakistani Rangers officer Tahir Khan said the parade venue was about 600 metres ahead of the blast site.

“The suicide bomber detonated the bomb away from the parade venue because of strict checking,” Mr Khan said. “If the blast had occurred closer to the border gate, the devastation would have been far greater.”

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Shuja Khanzada said the bomber had been waiting for people to gather following the conclusion of the flag-lowering ceremony.

“His target was to get close to soldiers at the border but he was unable to cross the last checkpoint,” Mr Khanzada said.

“We received scores of bodies, including 17 women and children,” said one official from the nearby Ghurki Hospital. While three Pakistani Rangers were killed, it appeared that the rest of the victims were civilians.

Many people returning from the flag-lowering ceremony on the Indian side of the border felt the blast, with Indian security forces swiftly evacuating the area to avoid the possibility of a stampede.

Two of the three factions of the al-Qaeda affiliated Tehreek-e-Taliban who claimed responsibility for the attack said it was in retaliation for a Pakistani military operation in North Waziristan in June that killed over 1200 Taliban insurgents.

The third faction said the attack was to avenge the killing of Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone strike last year.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi both condemned the attack. Indian intelligence had recently issued warnings about an imminent suicide attack targeting the evening flag ceremony, placing its border troops on high alert.

Pakistani security forces had also been concerned about the increased threat level, erecting new defensive structures close to the Wagah border crossing.

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