Suicide bombers kill 39 in Pakistan

Los Angeles Times

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Two suicide bomb blasts spaced just 15 seconds apart rocked the eastern city of Lahore Friday, killing at least 39 people and sparking fears of a new wave of militant violence in major cities following a period of relative calm.

The attacks targeted two Pakistani military vehicles near a crowded market known as the RA bazaar. The bombers detonated vests filled with explosives after walking up to the vehicles, said Lahore police official Chaudhry Shafiq. More than 95 people were injured in the explosions.

The twin blasts come just four days after a suicide car bomb attack at a building that houses terrorism investigations in Lahore killed at least 13 people and wounded 80 others.

Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city and its cultural capital, had been the scene of some of the deadliest bombing attacks in the country last year, including bomb blasts in December that ripped through a crowded city bazaar and killed 48 people, and the commando-style raid on the provincial headquarters of Pakistan’s spy agency that killed at least 27 people in May.

Those attacks came amid several waves of violence carried out by Islamic extremists in retaliation against military offensives that routed Taliban militants from the volatile Swat Valley region and sections of the tribal areas along the Afghan border. The violence that killed more than 600 people.

However, the success of those offensives, coupled with a steady series of U.S. drone attacks that have killed scores of militants and two Pakistani Taliban leaders, had recently given Pakistanis confidence that they were gaining the upper hand against a militancy that last spring had spread to within 60 miles of the capital, Islamabad. A new wave of suicide bombings in Pakistan’s major cities could undermine that momentum.

“The nation and its security forces need to keep morale high,” said Rana Sanaullah, law minister for Punjab province, where Lahore is located. “We can only win this fight with unity.”

The attacks Friday occurred at the Lahore Cantonment, a heavily guarded military district that includes offices and apartments for retired and active army personnel as well as rows of shops and market stalls.

The military vehicles targeted in the attacks belonged to the Garrison Security Force, a unit responsible for securing the district. The RA bazaar is the district’s commercial area. Eleven of the dead were Pakistani military personnel, said Punjab Police Inspector General Tariq Saleem Dogar.

Muhammad Shahid, 20, said he was standing only a few yards away when the blasts shook the neighborhood.

“I heard firing after the first blast, and then suddenly there was another huge blast,” Shahid said. “I saw 20 to 25 bodies lying on the ground. There was blood everywhere. People were crying and running away in panic.”

Shopkeeper Muhammad Hafeez heard the blasts from inside his shop about 200 yards from the site. “Both blasts were huge,” he said. “I also heard gunshots. We stayed inside our shops out of fear, then later shut everything down.”

Los Angeles Times staff writer Alex Rodriguez reported from Islamabad, and special correspondent Aoun Sahi reported from Lahore.