March 28, 2016 As Pakistan began burying its dead Monday, authorities counted 29 children among those killed by an Easter suicide bombing in an amusement park, victims of a terrorist attack that has reinforced growing feelings of dread here.
Taliban militants said they were targeting Christians with the suicide bombing which killed at least 72 people, nearly half of them children, in a crowded park in Lahore as thousands marked Easter on a warm spring evening.
Police in Lahore said Monday that they were investigating whether the suicide bomber — who detonated an explosives-packed vest in the crowded park Sunday evening — had accomplices. The blast ripped through crowds of families celebrating Easter and a school break, transforming a joyful scene into a spectacle of chaos and horror. The city was in a period of official mourning Monday, with schools and markets closed and little traffic.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis on Monday decried the Easter bombing as “vile and abominable” and called for Pakistan’s religious minorities to be protected. He urged authorities in Pakistan to “make every effort to restore security and serenity” to Pakistanis, according to the Vatican’s website.
Pakistani authorities noted that more Muslims than Christians were killed and injured. Of those who died at the scene, 14 were Christian, 44 were Muslim, and nine could not immediately be identified, according to Muhammad Iqbal, the superintendent of police for operations in Lahore.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrived in Lahore, which is one of his political strongholds, to visit the wounded in one of the city’s many hospitals, his office said. He also announced that he was canceling a trip to Washington, where he had planned to attend this week’s nuclear summit.
A splinter faction of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat ul-Ahrar, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying, “It was our people who attacked the Christians in Lahore, celebrating Easter.”
In Islamabad on Monday, thousands of Muslim demonstrators protesting the execution of Islamist assassin Mumtaz Qadri staged a sit-in inside the capital city’s “Red Zone,” which is home to a number of vital government institutions, including Parliament and the prime minister’s house. Qadri assassinated Punjab’s governor, Salman Taseer, in 2011 over the latter’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Most blasphemy cases are lodged against non-Muslims for violations such as desecrating the Koran, Islam’s holy book, according to rights monitors. The army was deployed Sunday night to protect government buildings after the protesters rampaged across the city, damaging property and setting buildings on fire.