LAHORE – Pakistan is to observe three days of mourning after the Lahore park bombing claimed by a Pakistani Taliban faction in which at least 72 people were killed, many of them children.
The Taliban faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has claimed responsibility for the suicide bomb attack on Sunday, saying the target was Muslim Pakistan’s small Christian minority.
“The target were Christians,” said a spokesman for the faction, Ehsanullah Ehsan. “We want to send this message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered Lahore. He can do what he wants but he won’t be able to stop us. Our suicide bombers will continue these attacks.”
Islamist militants in Pakistan have attacked Christians and other religious minorities often over the past decade. Christians have accused the government of doing little to protect them.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the Easter Day bombing, calling it an “appalling” act of terrorism.
“The secretary-general strongly condemns the suicide bombing today at Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park in the Pakistani city of Lahore,” a UN statement said.
“The secretary-general calls for the perpetrators of this appalling terrorist act to be brought swiftly to justice, consistent with human rights obligations.”
Pakistani authorities launched a hunt on Monday for militants behind the bombing.
“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 in a post on Twitter.
Pakistan has been plagued by militant violence for the last 15 years, since it joined a US-led campaign against Islamist militancy after the 11 September 2001, al-Qaeda attacks on the United States.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has claimed responsibility for several big attacks after it split with the main Pakistani Taliban in 2014. It declared allegiance to the Islamic State but later said it was rejoining the Taliban insurgency.
While the army, police, government and Western interests have been the prime targets of the Pakistani Taliban and their allies, Christians and other religious minorities have also attacked.
The security forces have killed and arrested hundreds of suspected militants under a major crackdown launched after Taliban gunmen massacred 134 children at a military-run school in Peshawar in December 2014.
Lahore is the capital of Pakistan’s richest province, Punjab, and is widely seen as the political heartland of Sharif and his ruling party.
Sharif’s office condemned the blast as a cowardly act and said a response had been ordered, without elaborating.
Pakistan’s security agencies have long been accused of nurturing some militants to use for help in pursuing security objectives in Afghanistan and against old rival India.
The Pakistani Taliban are fighting to topple the government and instal a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
Sharif’s opponents have accused him of tolerating militancy in return for peace in his province, a charge he strongly denies.