Terror struck Lahore for the third time in two months when an explosives-laden vehicle apparently targeting the ISI headquarters went off in crowded Civil Lines area, killing at least 30 people and leaving nearly 150 injured.
At least four men with rifles stepped from the car and opened fire on the intelligence agency building, then set off a massive blast when security guards returned fire, officials said.
Interior minister Rehman Malik suggested the attack could be retaliation for the government’s military offensive to rout Taliban militants from the northwestern Swat Valley.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the latest bombing. Police said one suspect was detained.
Reports said some suspects picked up in connection with the March 3 terror attack on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team here, were inside the ISI office when the blast took place.
The blast could be an attempt to free Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, Pak media reported. The blast took place on a day when Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed was to be presented in the Lahore high court close by.
Raja Riaz, a senior minister in the Punjab provincial government, told reporters that about 30 people died. Fayyaz Ranjha, a senior health official, told state-run Pakistan Television that at least 116 people were wounded. Police put the number of injured at 250.
The explosion sheared the walls off buildings in a main business district. TV footage showed bleeding bystanders and emergency workers carrying the injured toward ambulances.
“The moment the blast happened, everything went dark in front of my eyes,” witness Muhammad Ali said. “The way the blast happened, then gunfire, it looked as if there was a battle going on.”
Sajjad Bhutta, a senior government official in Lahore, told reporters that a car carrying several gunmen pulled up in a street between offices of the emergency police and the Inter-Service Intelligence agency, Pakistan’s premier spy agency.
“As some people came out from that vehicle and starting firing at the ISI office, the guards from inside that building returned fire,” he said. As the firing continued, the car suddenly exploded, he said.
The spy agency and police building were both badly damaged. An AP reporter saw dozens of troops entering the spy agency building to supervise the rescue work, while gunshots were heard from inside the building even one hour after the blast.
Television footage showed officers dragging a black-shirted man from the scene.
Malik blamed the attack on militants that government forces are fighting in the Swat Valley and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas near Afghanistan.
“These terrorists were defeated in FATA and Swat and now they have come here,” he told reporters.
The attack came as General David Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, was in Islamabad for meetings with government and military leaders.
The Wednesday’s blast comes less than two months after the attack on the police academy at Manawan, close to Lahore on March 30 this year, when armed gunmen laid a siege resulting in the killing of 10 people including eight policemen.
Lahore was also the scene of an attack on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team on March 3, in which eight people, including six police officials were killed and six cricketers were injured.