Seven blasts rattle Lahore; 48 killed, hundreds injured

Five successive blasts within 45 minutes ripped through a market in Lahore, less than 12 hours after twin blasts killed 48 people in the city.

Updated: Mar 13, 2010, 09:32 AM IST

Lahore (Pakistan): Five successive blasts within the span of 45 minutes ripped through a market place in Pakistan`s eastern city Lahore Friday, less than 12 hours after twin blasts rocked the town, killing 48 people.

All the five back-to-back explosions took place in Iqbal Town area of Moon Market, raising the total number of blasts in the city to seven.

The first blast occurred in an empty plot in Kashmir Block. The second blast hit a car parked outside a house. The third blast, which took place near Edhi Center in Kashmir Block, was followed by the fourth explosion outside the residence of a senior police official in the area, Geo News reported.

The fifth blast occurred at Karim Block area. No causality has been reported in these attacks. However, four people were injured.
Earlier in the day, two suicide bombers blew themselves up in Lahore`s RA Market, targeting a military convoy. At least 48 people, including 18 soldiers, were killed and 95 injured in that attack.

A pair of suicide bombers targeting army vehicles detonated explosives within seconds of each other Friday, killing at least 43 people in this eastern city and wounding about 100, police said. It was the fourth major attack in Pakistan this week, indicating Islamist militants are stepping up violence after a period of relative calm.

Hours later, a series of small explosions terrified residents in a different Lahore neighborhood and injured at least three people. Police officials said the four low-intensity blasts apparently resulted from loose explosives — not packed bombs — scattered through the residential area. While the explosions sent police and rescue workers racing through the area, there were no immediate reports of deaths or major damage.

About 10 of those killed in the twin blasts were soldiers, said Lahore police chief Parvaiz Rathore.

The bombers, who were on foot, struck RA Bazaar, a residential and commercial neighborhood where several security agencies have facilities. Security forces swarmed the area as thick black smoke rose into the sky and bystanders rushed the injured into ambulances. Video being shot with a mobile phone just after the first explosion showed a large burst of orange flame suddenly erupting in the street, according to GEO TV, which broadcast a short clip of the footage shot by Tabraiz Bukhari.

"Oh my God! Oh my God! Who are these beasts? Oh my God!" Bukhari can be heard shouting after the blast in a mixture of English and Urdu.
Senior police official Chaudhry Mohammad Shafiq said 43 people were killed and about 100 were injured. Some of the wounded were missing limbs, lying in pools of blood after the explosions, eyewitness Afzal Awan said.

"I saw smoke rising everywhere," Awan told reporters. "A lot of people were crying."

No group immediately claimed responsibility, but suspicion quickly fell on the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaida.

The militants are believed to have been behind scores of attacks in U.S.-allied Pakistan over the last several years, including a series of strikes that began in October and lasted around three months, killing some 600 people in apparent retaliation for an army offensive along the Afghan border.

In more recent months, the attacks were smaller, fewer and confined to remote regions near Afghanistan.

But on Monday, a suicide car bomber struck a building in Lahore where police interrogated high-value suspects — including militants — killing at least 13 people and wounding dozens. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility.

Also this week, suspected militants attacked the offices of World Vision, a U.S.-based Christian aid group, in the northwest district of Mansehra, killing six Pakistani employees, while a bombing at a small, makeshift movie theater in the northwest city of Peshawar killed four people.

Rana Sanaullah Khan, the law minister for Punjab state, where Lahore is located, said the renewed attacks are a "sign of desperation" by the militants.

"We broke their networks. That`s why they have not been able to strike for a considerable time," he said.

But the attacks show that the loose network of insurgents angry with Islamabad for its alliance with the U.S. retain the ability to strike throughout Pakistan despite pressure from army offensives and American missile strikes.

The violence also comes amid signs of a Pakistani crackdown on Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida operatives using its soil. Among the militants known to have been arrested is the Afghan Taliban`s No. 2 commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

The Pakistani Taliban, meanwhile, are believed to have lost their top commander, Hakimullah Mehsud, in a U.S. missile strike in January. The group has denied Mehsud is dead but has failed to prove he`s still alive.

Militant attacks in Pakistan frequently target security forces, though civilian targets have not escaped.

During the bloody wave of attacks that began in October — coinciding with the army`s ground offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in the South Waziristan tribal area — Lahore was hit several times.

In mid-October, three groups of gunmen attacked three security facilities in the eastern city, a rampage that left 28 dead. Twin suicide bombings at a market there in December killed around 50 people.

Bureau Report with IANS inputs