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Taliban Claim Responsibility for Lahore Attack | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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LAHORE, Pakistan, (AP) – The Taliban in Pakistan claimed responsibility Thursday for a deadly bomb and gun attack on police and intelligence agency offices, saying it was revenge for the army’s current offensive against militants in the country’s northwest.

Hakimullah Mehsud, a deputy to Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, told The Associated Press in a telephone call that Wednesday’s suicide attack in Lahore “was in response to the Swat operation where innocent people have been killed.”

About 30 people were killed and more than 300 wounded when gunmen fired and lobbed grenades at offices of the police and top intelligence agency, then detonated an explosive-laden van in a busy street in Pakistan’s second-largest city — a major cultural center and a hub for the armed services.

A little-known group calling itself the Taliban Movement in Punjab has also claimed responsibility for the attack.

The government announced bounties for 21 Taliban leaders in northwestern Pakistan, after blaming militants for Wednesday’s assault.

The attack on Lahore, the capital of the Punjab province, was far from the restive northwest Afghan border region where the Taliban have established strongholds in the Swat Valley.

The military launched a major offensive in the Swat region late last month after the Taliban seized control of a neighboring district an a bold bid to extend their influence. Washington and other Western allies see the campaign as a test of the Pakistani government’s resolve to take on the spread of militancy.

Wednesday’s attack was the third since March in Lahore, following deadly assaults on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team and a police academy. Officials fear militants may be choosing targets there to make the point that nowhere is beyond their reach.

The site was cordoned off Thursday while officials from electricity and public works departments surveyed the damage. Senior army command and civil administration officials were visiting as well. Hospital officials said 80 out of 314 wounded taken to three medical centers were still being treated, including 10 in critical condition.

A group calling itself Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab, or Taliban Movement in Punjab, took the blame for the bombing in a Turkish-language communique posted on Turkish jihadist Web sites Wednesday and referenced the fight in Swat, the SITE Intelligence Group said.

The claim could not be verified, and the militant group’s relationship to the Taliban was unclear.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said militants were striking out because they were losing the fight with government forces battling to uproot extremists in the northwestern valley and tribal areas near Afghanistan.

The military released a transcript Wednesday of what it said was an intercepted phone call made by the Taliban spokesman in Swat, Muslim Khan, in which he sought help from militants in Waziristan to take revenge on military commanders in Punjab for the Swat offensive. Waziristan abuts Punjab.

Khan asked the recipient of the call, who was not identified, to target “generals or colonels from Punjab so that they feel the pain” of people suffering in Swat.

The military did not say when the call was made, or provide other details.

Officials said three suspects had been detained.

The government took out ads in several newspapers Thursday listing 21 Taliban leaders — 18 of them with pictures — and offering varying rewards for each, the lowest being around $12,400. The top bounty was $62,000 for top Swat Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah.

Hospital and government officials have accounted for 15 police and 11 bystanders killed in Wednesday’s attack. The tally does not include intelligence agents whose bodies were taken to a military hospital.

One intelligence agency colonel has been identified as having died, but other details of the agency’s casualties are being kept secret, an intelligence official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.