A breakaway faction of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility Monday after a suicide bombing killed at least 14 people and injured 87 others at a large protest rally in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore.
The attack occurred as hundreds of pharmacists and pharmaceutical manufacturers rallied in front of the provincial assembly building against government regulations on drug sales.
A suicide bomber on foot targeted several senior law enforcement officials who were negotiating with protesters, according to the provincial police chief, Mushtaq Shukhera. Six police officials were among those killed in what the militant group said was revenge for Pakistani military operations in the Afghan border region.
Muhammad Sarfraz, a traffic police official, said law enforcement agents were speaking with protesters when the blast occurred about 15 feet from where they were standing.
"Suddenly there was a big bang followed by smoke and fire," Sarfraz said. "I lost my senses for a few seconds. When recovered, I saw at least 50 people lying on the ground. It was like doomsday."
The Taliban offshoot, Jamaat-ul Ahrar, claimed responsibility through a spokesman. The same group was behind the bombing of a park in Lahore on Easter Sunday in 2016 that killed nearly 80 people and wounded hundreds.
Rana Sanaullah, the provincial law minister, said militant groups that had sanctuary in neighboring Afghanistan were using their safe havens to wage attacks in Pakistan.
The latest attack in Lahore, the prosperous capital of Punjab province, was particularly significant because the city is the political base of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It has typically been insulated from the militant violence infesting Pakistan's northwestern tribal region and the coastal city of Karachi.
Amir Rana, a security analyst based in the capital, Islamabad, said the attack showed that Jamaat-ul Ahrar's network of militants remained strong despite Pakistani security operations and pledges to eradicate terrorism.
"We will have to take more measures, such as better intelligence coordination," Rana said. "Pakistan will also have to sit with Afghanistan to discuss the terrorism issue in the region."
Special correspondent Sahi reported from Islamabad and Times staff writer Shashank Bengali from Sofia, Bulgaria.
Follow @SBengali on Twitter for more news from South Asia
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11:40 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with staff reporting, including a higher death toll.
7:40 a.m.: This article was updated with estimated death and injury tolls, as well as information about the group that claimed the attack.