Lahore (Pakistan): A suicide car bomber destroyed offices used to interrogate suspected militants in Lahore on Monday, killing 15 people in the latest bloody attack on Pakistan`s cultural capital.
Pakistan`s Taliban faction claimed responsibility for the attack after the bomber tried to ram a car packed with up to 600 kilograms (1,300 pounds) of explosives into the investigations unit in the country`s second largest city.
There were scenes of panic as volunteers and rescue workers dug with bare hands under the collapsed two-storey building and a severely damaged Muslim seminary, searching for survivors with the number of wounded at 83.
The blast underscored the chronic insecurity in nuclear-armed Pakistan, an ally in the US-led war on al Qaeda and the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan, despite a recent lull in violence.
A wave of suicide and bomb attacks across Pakistan has killed more than 3,000 people since 2007. Blame has fallen on Taliban and al Qaeda-linked militants bitterly opposed to the alliance with the United States.
"We had just assembled in our classroom when it looked as if hell had broken with a huge blast," Noor Mohammad, a student at the seminary said to a news agency.
A thick pall of smoke accumulated outside the window as wood panels broke into pieces, hitting and wounding students. Eyewitness account: `Living hell` in Lahore
"There was panic as students, many of them carrying their injured friends, rushed to the exit in a bid to find a safe place," Mohammad said.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called on members of the ruling Pakistan People`s Party in the city to donate blood for the wounded.
Fifteen people were killed, including nine police, a woman and a teenager, said Jinnah Hospital Doctor Javed Akram. Police earlier put the toll at 13.
"It was a police special investigation unit that was targeted. The building was used to interrogate suspected terrorists," Lahore city police chief Pervez Rathore said to a news agency.
The blast gouged a huge crater out of the ground, crumpled roofs and littered the streets with tree branches. Bulldozers and other heavy-lifting machinery worked to clear mounds of rubble, witnesses said.
"It`s plain terrorism... the same groups which are already operating in Pakistan. It is a suicide bomb. There is ample evidence," Khusro Pervez, Lahore`s top administration official, said to a news agency.
Six militant attacks in Lahore, mainly targeting police and security offices, have killed more than 130 people over the last year.
Police said 30 to 50 people were in the investigations building, used by police and intelligence agents, at the time of the attack.
"We have found the head of the suicide bomber. It was found about 500 metres away," said Model Town police official Ayyaz Saleem.
A spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan faction holed up along the Afghan border claimed responsibility for the attack, which Interior Minister Rehman Malik blamed on "hired killers" wanting to destabilise the country.
"The attack was to avenge (US) drone attacks and (Pakistani) military operations in the tribal areas," said Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq.
"We have 2,800 to 3,000 more suicide bombers.... We will target all government places, buildings and offices," he said.
US drone attacks routinely target Taliban and al Qaeda commanders in Pakistan`s semi-autonomous tribal belt, which Washington calls the global headquarters of al Qaeda.
Pakistan`s military claims to have made big gains against Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds over the past year, following major offensives in the northwestern district of Swat and the tribal region of South Waziristan.
Monday`s attack follows a decline in violence by Islamist militants in Pakistan after a significant increase in bloodshed in late 2009.
Officials have linked the reduction to the suspected death -- still not confirmed -- of TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud and military offensives that have disrupted militant networks.
Washington says militants in Pakistan`s semi-autonomous tribal belt are supporting the war in Afghanistan, where more than 120,000 NATO and US troops are battling a deadly Taliban insurgency.