Lahore: Pakistani Taliban on Monday 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.
Ashraf said an FIR has been registered under anti-terrorism act with murder and attempted murder along with other charges being slapped against unidentified suspects. Police have gathered the limbs of the suspected suicide bomber and sent it for forensic test.
"The suspect has been identified as Muhammad Yousuf of south Punjab's Muzaffarghar district," an official of the Punjab police said. He said the suspected bomber, believed to be in his 20s, entered the park and blew himself up near the swings.
Police have arrested five family members of the suspect from south Punjab and shifted them to undisclosed location for interrogation.
"Yes we have taken some family members of the suspect into custody as part of our investigation into the matter," Ashraf said.
In a late night operation, Lahore police took more than 20 "suspected people" into custody as well. Most of the arrested persons were found without their identity documents. The government has announced three-day mourning. It has also closed all public parks for indefinite period in Lahore.
All Lahore's markets and business centers remained closed today.
Private schools were also closed to condemn the attack and express solidarity with the victims.