Pakistan is mourning the death of at least 70 people in Sunday’s Taliban suicide bombing in the eastern city of Lahore targeting Christians. Hospital officials say up to 30 children were among the dead.
The blast occurred in a crowded public park and wounded more than 300 people. Many of the victims are from the minority Christian community who were in the park celebrating Easter.
A military spokesman said Monday security agencies have conducted several operations based on initial leads and arrested “a number of suspect terrorists and facilitators” from areas in the provincial capital and two other cities, Multan and Faisalabad, of Punjab, the country’s most populous province. He shared no other details.
A spokesman for a breakaway faction of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing, saying it was aimed at Christians.
Witnesses speaking to reporters Monday recounted how the blast rocked the park.
Ikram Arif said he was parking his motorcycle and was about to enter the park with a friend when they suddenly heard the sound of an explosion from inside.
"We rushed inside and saw bodies with blown up heads and legs. Many injured people, men, women, and children were lying there," he said, adding the first injured person he picked up was an infant of around six months old.
Eyewitness Mohammad Arshad criticized authorities for not ensuring proper security in and outside the park. "It was a very loud explosion and moments later we saw a pool of blood with bodies and injured lying here and there. There was no proper security arrangement here," he added.
The terrorist attack has been widely criticized by national and international leaders.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrived in Lahore Monday morning where he chaired a meeting of top civilian and security officials. While condemning the terrorist strike against innocent civilians, Sharif said it will not deter efforts to eliminate extremism and terrorism from Pakistan.
In a statement from National Security Council spokesman Ned Price, the United States condemned "in the strongest terms" the attack in Lahore, calling it a "cowardly act in what has long been a scenic and placid park.”
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also released a statement strongly condemning the bombing and calling for “the perpetrators of this appalling terrorist act to be brought swiftly to justice, consistent with human rights obligations.”
He urged the Pakistani government to do its utmost to put in place protective measures to ensure the personal security of all individuals, including religious minority communities living in the country.
Authorities have increased security in parks and other public locations across Pakistan following the Lahore carnage.
Meanwhile, several hundred Islamist activists were still staging a protest near the parliament in Islamabad Monday morning and refusing to disperse until their demands are met.
Thousands of demonstrators had marched on the capital city late Sunday evening to protest against the hanging of a man charged with murdering a provincial governor because he had called for reforms in the blasphemy laws.
The protesters, mostly activists of Islamic parties, rallied against the execution of Mumtaz Qadri who gunned down Punjab's governor, Salman Taseer, in 2011 because the slain politician had called for reforms in the country’s Islamic law against blasphemy.
The demonstrators clashed with police and paramilitary forces while setting fire to private and government buildings.
The clashes wounded more than two dozen security personnel, prompting the government to deploy troops to protect the so-called Red Zone in Islamabad where mostly key official buildings, including parliament and foreign diplomatic missions, are located.
The protesters were demanding, among other things, assurances that the government will not introduce changes in the blasphemy laws. However, the deployment of troops acted as a deterrent and most of the crowd dispersed in the middle of the night.