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Pakistani counter-terrorism official killed in suicide blast

Pakistani counter-terrorism official killed in suicide blast
Shuja Khanzada, the home minister of Punjab province, in Lahore, Pakistan, on Aug. 4. (European Pressphoto Agency)

A senior Pakistani official was killed along with at least 14 others Sunday in a suicide bombing at his office, according to police and rescue officials.

Shuja Khanzada, who helped lead counter-terrorism operations as home minister in Punjab, Pakistan's largest province, was killed barely two weeks after police shot and killed one of the country's most feared militant leaders. Authorities said the bombing was a retaliatory strike, although no militant group immediately claimed responsibility.

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Khanzada was holding a meeting at his office in Attock district Sunday morning when a suicide bomber blew himself up, causing a blast so powerful that the roof of the building caved in with 40 to 50 people inside, officials said.

Khanzada and several others were crushed under the rubble, said Ghulam Shabbir, a senior police officer in Attock. It was several hours before rescue teams could retrieve the bodies from the wreckage.

"There is no chance that we would rescue somebody alive from the rubble," said Deeba Shahnaz, a spokesperson for rescue operations, adding that the death toll could rise.

Khanzada was actively involved in major operations against militant groups in Punjab and had become a target of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an Al Qaeda-affiliated group, after the July 29 killing of its leader, Malik Ishaq, provincial counter-terrorism officials said.

The retired army colonel served as military attache in Pakistan's embassy in Washington from 1992 to 1994.

Pressure on militant groups in Pakistan has been growing since the government lifted a moratorium on the death penalty in terrorism cases, a policy that Khanzada supported.

Weeks earlier, police killed the alleged head of Al Qaeda in Punjab during a raid outside the city of Lahore.

Sahi is a special correspondent.

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