At least eight people were killed and 20 injured after a bomb ripped through Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore Thursday, officials said, the tenth attack in just under a fortnight pointing to a resurgence in violence.
The blast, the second to hit the provincial capital this month, crumpled cars and sent panic rippling through the city after the wave of attacks across Pakistan killed more than 130 people.
The building where the bomb went off was under construction in a market crowded with people, including children, said Imtiaz Ali, a 34-year-old barber.
“When I came out I first just saw smoke and dust… Bikes upturned. Cars destroyed. My own colleague’s car windows blown out. My clients’ cars blown out. I was close to fainting,” he told AFP.
Police and administration officials confirmed it was a bomb attack, as rescuers supplied the casualty toll. No group has immediately claimed responsibility.
Punjab police spokesman Nayab Haider told Reuters the explosion was caused by a “planted bomb” that was either time- or remotely detonated.
No one was allowed to leave or enter the area because the bomber was suspected to be at large, officials said.
Reports of a second explosion turned out to be a tire blowout that caused panic due to the tense atmosphere in the city, a government official said.
The panic underscored growing nervousness across the country as a series of assaults shook what had been a growing sense of security during a prolonged lull in violence.
They included a previous bomb blast in Lahore on February 13 which killed 15 people, and a devastating suicide attack at a shrine in Sindh province that left 90 devotees dead.
The attacks, most of which were claimed by ISIS or the Pakistani Taliban, have dented growing optimism over the country’s security after it appeared to be making strong gains in its decade-and-a-half long war on militancy.
The emergence of ISIS and a Taliban resurgence would be a major blow to Pakistan. Analysts have said the apparently coordinated nature of the attacks suggested militants were regrouping.
Islamabad launched a crackdown in the wake of the attacks, saying it has killed dozens of “terrorists” in recent days and carried out airstrikes on militant hideouts along the Afghan border.
On Wednesday the military announced a nationwide anti-terrorist operation.
“This operation will basically target sanctuaries… of militants in Punjab province and restrict their movements,” defense analyst and retired general Talat Masood told AFP.