Blast in Pakistan’s heartland shatters a recent calm
Interrogation area targeted; 13 killed
LAHORE, Pakistan - A deadly bombing yesterday at a government interrogation center in the eastern city of Lahore broke what had been a relative lull in violence in Pakistan and showed that insurgents retain the ability to strike the country’s heartland.
The suicide car bombing of the police building, where high-value suspects are questioned, killed at least 13 people and wounded dozens, including women taking children to school, officials said.
Militant groups that revile the government for its alliance with the United States generally operate in Afghan border regions, where Al Qaeda and the Taliban have long thrived despite army offensives aimed at wiping them out.
Pakistanis living near the police building had filed complaints urging authorities to move the unmarked interrogation facility out of the residential area so the street wouldn’t become a target for an attack, said Mohammad Musharraf, a neighborhood resident.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a telephone call to the Associated Press.
The Taliban and allied groups are believed responsible for a wave of attacks that killed more than 600 people starting in October, including several in major Pakistani cities. More recent attacks have been smaller and confined to remote northwest regions near Afghanistan.
The bomb exploded yesterday amid reports of a Pakistani crackdown on Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives operating in Pakistan. Among the militants said to have been arrested is the Afghan Taliban’s second in command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
The explosion went off outside a Punjab Province police building, a police official said. There was a huge crater in the ground where the blast originated. It appeared the suicide bomber rammed a car packed with as much as 1,300 pounds of explosives into the building’s perimeter wall, officials said.
“This place was used to interrogate important suspects, but presently there [were no suspects], but more than 40 staff were manning the place,’’ said Pervez Rathore, Lahore’s police chief.
Noorul Huda, a student at a nearby religious school, was in his first class when the blast shook the area, he told TV reporters. “With the huge bang, blocks and pieces of the roof fell upon us and six of us were wounded,’’ said the young man, who suffered a head injury.
Police official Chaudhry Shafiq said 13 people had died. Of the 61 people wounded, several were in critical condition. Major Mushtaq, who heads the interrogation facility, said the dead included nine officials from police and the investigation agency and four civilians, including two women.
A hospital official said the dead included at least one woman and a young girl, apparently part of a group heading to a school. Several women were among the wounded.
Much of the police building collapsed, leaving piles of bricks and metal, TV footage showed. Other nearby homes and other buildings, including a mosque, also were damaged.
The United States has applauded Pakistan for its military operations and is also suspected of pummeling militants in the tribal areas with dozens of drone missile strikes, including one yesterday that killed three people, said Pakistani intelligence officials.