On Easter Sunday, at least 70 people were killed and hundreds wounded after a suicide bomb went off in a park in Lahore, Pakistan, near multiple merry-go-rounds with families nearby on March 27. The attackers—Pakistani Taliban faction, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar—targeted Christian families celebrating Easter, although Muslims were among the victims.
“We claim responsibility for the attack on Christians as they were celebrating Easter,” stated spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan for the extremist group.
Christians may have been targeted due to religious contention in Pakistan. In a country of 190 million, Pakistani Christians make up about 1 percent of the population. They are primarily located in Lahore. According to NPR, the community of Christians have complained that the government does little to protect them when there have been smaller, periodical attacks.
According to the medical staff who witnessed the aftermath of the attack, women and children were the majority of fatal victims of the attack. Those wounded are known to be in critical condition. They estimated at least 300 people injured from the attack, and the death toll may continue to rise.
The Punjab government responded to the attack by announcing three days of national mourning and closure of all public parks and most businesses in Pakistan.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif held a four-hour meeting with his top ministers; Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif directed intelligence agencies to investigate the attack. The government has made promises to identify the attackers and bring them to trial.
Lahore is the capital of Punjab Province and the hometown of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Sharif.
Ehsan warned of future attacks following the Easter bombing, “It’s our message to the government that we will carry out such attacks again until sharia [Islamic law] is imposed in the country.” He said, “Our suicide bombers will continue these attacks.”
This is the third bombing in Pakistan this month, attesting to potential threat of Islamic extremist groups, despite the government’s militaristic efforts to crack down on extremists in the past two years.
In 2014, Pakistani Taliban killed more than 130 schoolboys in their educational environment. Pakistan armed forces have increased offensives against Islamist militants, yet attacks have not decreased.
In another recent attack last year, popular Pakistani Regional Minister Salmaan Taseer and eight others were killed at his home in a bombing. Taseer campaigned for changes in the country’s blasphemy laws to diminish persecution of religious minorities.
Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri was charged with killing the regional governor and was hung. After the event, Qadri became a revered figure among Pakistani supporters.
Just days before the Easter attack, thousands of Qadri supporters came out in public protest.
Protesters marched through Islamabad—the country’s capital—forcing their way into a high-security area where Parliament and the Supreme Court are located. A scene of violence erupted as public properties were damaged and police used tear gas to disperse the protesters.
Although public opinion is largely critical of the jihadists’ attacks on civilians, this protest showed the sympathetic attitude many have toward the extremist groups in Pakistan.
Due to the close proximity of events, the Easter bombing may have ties to a conflict between police and supporters of Qadri.
Other people expressed that the security at the park was too lax. There was no security at the gates and the guard at the main gate was not checking people, according to The New York Times.
In an interview with NPR’s Philip Reeves—who was in Lahore at the park on Monday—university lecturer Ammar Jan commented on the presence of terrorist threat in Pakistan, “There was a feeling that perhaps suicide bombings would become a thing of the past, but I think it’s hit us home last night that the war is very much an ongoing effort.”
Muhammad Usman, a former Lahore police captain, said police had recovered body parts of the bomber from the scene and are trying to identify him.
Haider Ashraf, a senior police official, confirmed there were ball bearings found on the ground after the bombing. Investigators are trying to confirm that the attack was caused by a suicide bomb.