At least 65 people have died in an explosion in the city of Lahore, Pakistan, according to local police. Hundreds more have been injured. According to Reuters, the attack was claimed by the Taliban faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar.
“The target were Christians,” said a spokesman for the faction, Ehsanullah Ehsan. “We want to send this message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered Lahore. He can do what he wants but he won’t be able to stop us. Our suicide bombers will continue these attacks.”
The blast struck Gulshan-e-Iqbal park on the western side of Lahore, which features wide lawns, a boating lake and amusement rides.
The large public park was crowded with people enjoying a spring evening, NPR’s Philip Reeves reports from Islamabad.
Local police chief Haider Ashraf told The Associated Press that many families were leaving the park at the time of the explosion, which he said hit near the children’s rides.
The casualties included many women and children, Reuters reports, citing a superintendent of police for the area.
The prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, condemned the attack on Twitter.
In the U.S., the National Security Council spokesman said in a statement that America “condemns in the strongest terms today’s appalling terrorist attack” in Lahore:
“This cowardly act in what has long been a scenic and placid park has killed dozens of innocent civilians and left scores injured. We send our deepest condolences to the loved ones of those killed, just as our thoughts and prayers are with the many injured in the explosion.”
In the wake of the attack, the hashtag #LahoreBlast was trending on Twitter. Some tweets said hospitals in Lahore were running low on blood, and exhorted residents of Lahore to donate if they could.
Many expressed sorrow and anger at the blasts.
“It’s a park for gods sake!! Children on swings!! How can anybody even have the heart to do this,” tweeted Pakistani actress Mahira Khan.
Facebook turned on its Safety Check feature to allow users in the area to signal to friends and family that they are safe. But they appeared to have some issues with location accuracy: Many users posted online that they’d received the prompt telling them to check in — although they were not, and never had been, in Lahore, or even Pakistan.
Later, Facebook released a statement addressing the malfunctioning feature: “This kind of bug is counter to our intent. We worked quickly to resolve the issue and we apologize to anyone who mistakenly received the notification.”
Lahore, in Punjab province, is Pakistan’s second-largest city and historically the country’s cultural capital, Phil explains:
“Islamists have attacked it regularly over the years, but for many months Pakistan’s army and security services have been carrying out a big military operation against militant groups — especially aimed at the Taliban in the mountains bordering Afghanistan.
“As violence dipped, the people of Pakistan began to relax. Business picked up — and, in Lahore, tourists started to return.”
Today’s attack, he says, is “another reminder that the conflict in Pakistan is far from over.”
This is a developing story. Some things that get reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from police officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene. We will update as the situation develops.