Lahore, Mar 28: Pakistani Taliban today said the horrific suicide bombing at a popular park here was targeted at Christians celebrating Easter, even as the death toll in the massacre rose to 72 including 29 children.
"Three more people today succumbed to their injuries raising the death toll to 72," Punjab Emergency Services Rescue team spokesperson Deeba Shahnaz said. She said the condition of 26 out of the over 300 injured was very critical.
Most of the injured are children. At least 29 children and eight women are among the dead, according to the data released by different city hospitals.
At least 20 Christians are also among the dead. A large number of people were present at the crowded Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park of Allama Iqbal Town when a powerful blast took place last evening.
A large number of Christian families were present in the park due to Easter Sunday. The brutal attack by a suicide bomber -- believed to be in his 20s -- was claimed by the Jamaatul Ahrar, a splinter group of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
"It was targeted at Christians celebrating Easter," Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesman for the group, said. "We have carried out this attack to target the Christians who were celebrating Easter. Also this is a message to the Pakistani Prime Minister that we have arrived in Punjab," he said.
The Punjab government, however, denied Jamaatul Ahrar's claim that the bombing was aimed exclusively at Christians. "Christians were not the specific target in the blast. It was not the park meant for Christians only. The targets were Pakistanis," said Lahore District Coordination Officer retired Captain Muhammad Usman.
"It was a suicide attack. A suicide bomber blew himself inside the park near the children play area," Deputy Inspector General Lahore Police Dr Haider Asharaf said.
"Some 10 to 15 kilogramme explosive might have been used in the blast," he said. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif this morning visited Jinnah Hospital and inquired about the health of the injured patients.
"Why terrorists are killing us," an injured child asked the Premier from his hospital bed. The Prime Minister directed the health authorities to ensure best treatment for the injured.
He vowed that the perpetrators of the Lahore attack would not escape punishment. A family of a child at the Jinnah Hospital protested Sharif's visit.
"Police did not allow our relatives to enter the hospital because the Prime Minister was visiting it. If the rulers cannot provide security to their citizens they at least should not create problems for them in the name of security," said Rabia Bibi, who lost her two children in the bombing and third suffered injuries.