UPDATES DEATH TOLL
By Aamir Latif
KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) - At least nine people were killed, including five police officers, in a suicide blast Wednesday in northeastern Pakistan, police and local media reported.
The bomber, who acted alone, blew himself up at a checkpoint established to guard the headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat movement in the town of Raiwand, located on the outskirts of Lahore city, Lahore police chief Haider Ashraf told reporters.
More than 20 others were injured. They included 11 police personnel, four of whom are in critical condition, Ashraf said, adding that the headquarters, where around 60,000 people were present, was apparently targeted by the bomber.
Ashraf said the bomber blew himself up after he was intercepted by police personnel manning the checkpoint.
“The death toll would have been much higher if the bomber had managed to enter the premises,” he added.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella organization of various militant groups in the country, claimed responsibility for the attack.
In a statement, Muhammad Khurasani, a purported TTP spokesman, said a suicide bomber targeted the police checkpoint.
Hundreds of thousands of Tablighi Jamaat followers attend the annual congregation in Raiwand. The checkpoint is located a few kilometers from the residence of three-time premier Nawaz Sharif.
In February last year, a suicide attack at a demonstration near the Punjab state assembly in Lahore killed 13 people, including two senior police officials, and injured more than 80 others.
In May last year, six people were killed and 17 injured in another suicide attack in Lahore. Both attacks were claimed by the TTP and its affiliates.
Pakistan accuses TTP militants reportedly based in neighboring Afghanistan of attacking security forces and civilians after they were dislodged in an ongoing army operation from North Waziristan, one of seven semi- autonomous tribal regions along Afghanistan’s border and a former TTP stronghold.
Kabul, however, denies the charge and accuses Islamabad of patronizing the Afghan Taliban, who have carried out numerous brazen attacks on government and NATO forces in the war-stricken country in recent years.