Lahore blast: Pakistan in mourning, Sharif vows to avenge the attack
Lahore/Islamabad, March 29: As the Pakistani nation mourns the death of 72 people in Lahore, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said the government will not rest until they have avenged "every last drop of countrymen's blood".
The toll on Monday reached 72, mostly children and women, over 250 people were injured as well when the suicide bomb ripped through the parking space of Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Allama Iqbal town, where Christians were celebrating Easter Sunday.
Rescue spokesperson Deeba Shahbaz said the toll had risen to 72, with 29 children among the dead.
The prime minister while addressing the nation in the aftermath of a the attack said: "Those who are fomenting terrorism, sectarian hatred and extremism will not be allowed to flee and will face justice,"
"The terrorists, being deprived of their refuges and training centres, have now resorted to targeting soft targets such as parks and schools."
Sharif said armed forces of the country, police and the civil institutions sacrificed their lives under the Operation Zarb-e-Azb to uproot terrorism.
While many objectives under this operation have been achieved, efforts have continued to eradicate the menace completely, he added.
He said the government, since taking oath in June 2013, had vowed to eliminate terrorism and faced the fact that no one confronted the menace for the last 13 years.
In an apparent reference to the protests in Islamabad by pro-Mumtaz Qadri demonstrators, Sharif said Islam was a religion of peace, and did not teach to cause damage to lives or property.
"Government's leniency in this regard should not be taken as the state's weakness or vulnerability of security forces," he said, adding that protecting lives and property of the masses was the government's responsibility.
"By far, the government remained patient so the elements trying to provoke people's religious sentiments may not succeed."
He added, "But let me make it clear that provoking anger, those fomenting the fire of hate and inciting sectarianism and creating difficulties for the masses will be brought before justice at all costs."
The premier said Pakistan was not a victim of terrorism alone but many other parts of the world were plagued by it.
"We witnessed that this challenge is being faced by the entire world, evident in the recent incidents in Ankara, Istanbul, Brussels and Paris," he said. "The enemies of humanity have crossed geographical and ethical boundaries and limits (to fulfill their designs)," "But I want to make it clear that these terrorists have nowhere to live in our country."
The premier directed the law enforcement agencies to step up counter-terror operations and their abettors in southern Punjab, and ensure proactive coordination between law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
The premier, flanked by interior minister Chaudhry Nisar, also visited Jinnah Hospital and inquired after the health of those injured in the attack.
Following the attack, Pakistan Army along-with intelligence agencies and Rangers launched five joint operations in Lahore, Faisalabad and Multan and arrested a number of suspected terrorists and their facilitators while recovering arms and ammunition.
A Pakistan Taliban splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the deadly suicide attack, saying Christians were their target.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif announced a compensation of Pakistani Rs.1 million for the family of each deceased, Rs.0.3 million for the injured and Rs.0.15 million or those who received minor injuries in the incident.
Condemnations poured in from local as well as global leaders, as the US, British, Indian and Turkish premiers, UN chief, Pope Francis, Nobel laureate Malala and others condemned the attack in strongest terms.
Meanwhile, according to a readout from Foreign Office, Sharif cancelled his visit to the US in the wake of the attack.
He was scheduled to leave for Washington on Monday to represent Pakistan at a nuclear summit.
"In view of the terrorist attack in Lahore, which took a heavy toll on the lives of innocent citizens of Pakistan and caused injuries to scores of people, the prime minister has decided to cancel his visit to Washington to attend the Nuclear Security Summit," a the foreign ministry statement said.