Turkey, world condemn deadly attack in Pakistan, death toll exceeds 70
Pakistani rescuers and officials gather at a bomb blast site in Lahore on March 27, 2016. AFP PhotoTurkey and political figures across the globe have strongly condemned the deadly attack in Pakistan’s Lahore, which targeted Christians celebrating Easter, killed more than 70 people and was claimed by a fraction of the Taliban, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called Pakistani authorities to express his support and released a letter of condolence, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
“I offer my condolences to Mamnoon Hussain, my friend and the president of Pakistan, to Nawaz Sharif, my brother and the prime minister of Pakistan, and to Shehbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, as well as the people of Pakistan,” Erdoğan said in his statement.
The president stated the attack would serve as a test for all the world’s countries to demonstrate their honest positions in the face of terror.
“Turkey, as always, stands with Pakistan in this day of sorrow. I wish for all countries to adopt such an open approach towards Pakistan,” he said.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also sent a message of condolences to Nawaz Sharif and Shehbaz Sharif, vowing that Turkey’s support and cooperation with Pakistan in the fight against terror would continue with determination.
“We carried out the Lahore attack as Christians are our target,” Ehansullah Ehsan, spokesman for the hardline Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.
He said the group would carry out more such attacks, vowing to target schools and colleges alongside government and military interests.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on March 27 condemned the suicide 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 U.N. 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.”
Pope Francis on March 28 also condemned the Easter suicide bomb as “hideous” and demanded that the country’s authorities protect religious minorities.
Addressing thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square on Easter Monday, a religious holiday, the pope said Pakistan had been “bloodied by a hideous attack that massacred so many innocent people, mostly families of the Christian minority.”
The pope, speaking from the window of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace to crowds in the square below, called the evening attack in a busy park in the Pakistani city of Lahore, “a vile and senseless crime.”
“I appeal to civil authorities and all sectors of that nation to make every effort to restore security and serenity to the population, and in particular to the most vulnerable religious minorities,” he said.
The U.S. 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.”
Meanwhile, Pakistani military spokesman Gen. Asim Bajwa said intelligence agencies, the army and paramilitary Rangers had launched several raids around Punjab following the attack.
“Number of suspect terrorists and facilitators arrested and huge cache of arms and ammunition recovered,” he said in a tweet that gave no detail. He could not be reached for further comment.
Rescue spokeswoman Deeba Shahbaz said the toll had risen to 72 on March 28, with 29 children among the dead. Senior police official Haider Ashraf confirmed the number killed, adding the majority of the dead were Muslims.
“Everybody goes to this park,” he said.
Christians make up an estimated 1.6 percent of the Pakistan’s 200 million people, the vast majority of which are Muslim, and have long faced discrimination.
Witnesses described children screaming as people carried the injured in their arms, while frantic relatives searched for loved ones.
“We had gone to the park to enjoy the Easter holiday. There was a blast suddenly, I saw a huge ball of fire and four to six people of my family are injured. Two of them critical,” 53-year-old Arif Gill told AFP.
Many wounded children were taken to Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital, some clearly in pain as doctors examined injuries to their legs, arms and faces March 28.
Doctors had described frenzied scenes at hospitals in the immediate aftermath of the attack, with staff treating casualties on floors and in corridors, as officials tweeted calls for blood donations.
Schools and other government institutions were open, but three days of mourning have been announced in Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital, said commissioner Abdullah Sumbal.
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.
Facebook activated its safety check system after the blast, 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.