As many as 55 people, including women and children, were killed and about 200 were injured in a suicide bomb attack at the Wagah checkpoint near Lahore and along the India-Pakistan border on Sunday evening. No damage was reported on the Indian side.
"A large number of people were returning after watching Rangers flag ceremony at Wagah border when a suicide bomber blew himself up near one of the exit gates," inspector general of police of Punjab Mushtaq Sukhera said. He said three Pakistani Rangers were among the dead.
A militant group close to Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the deadliest attack to hit Pakistan in a year, saying it was a response to the Pakistani army's actions against their positions in tribal areas.
Indian security establishment had got intelligence inputs suggesting that the flag-lowering ceremony may be targeted, sources told HT in Delhi.
“India’s external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing had got intelligence inputs some 15 days back indicating that the flag-lowering might be targeted by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan,” a home ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
The bombing took place on the Pakistani side at least 500 meters from the border at 6.12pm. No Indian troops were hurt but the blast left windows and doors of the Border Security Force post shaking. Most of the people who died in the blast were returning from the ceremony.
The 18-year-old bomber tried to enter the security perimeter of the border area complex but was checked by the Rangers and that is when he detonated the explosives strapped on his body, Sukhera said. He was carrying 20 to 25 kg of explosives.
“I was sitting in my office near the border when I heard the blast. I rushed to the scene and saw scattered bodies, injured men, women and children and smashed cars," a Pakistani intelligence source said.
Security officials expressed fear that the teenager might have been trying to detonate himself further inside the complex that could have caused damage on the Indian side as well.
The dead and wounded were taken to Lahore’s Ghurki hospital, where distressed relatives, weeping and hugging each other in grief, searched for their loved ones.
Live TV footage showed people drenched in blood and crying in pain as they were evacuated to hospitals. At the hospitals, relatives of the dead cried and beat their chests and heads. "My brothers, my two brothers… They both are dead," a man wailed.
"We received 35 bodies including those of women and children and 60 to 70 were wounded," Deputy Medical Superintendent of Ghurki Hospital near the Wagah border crossing, identified only as Dr Khurram, told Pakistani television channels.
Lahore police chief Amin Wains confirmed it was a suicide attack. "Ball bearings were found at the scene," he said. TV channels showed images of gutted shops and buildings near the checkpoint.
Every day before sunset soldiers from Pakistan and India gather at Wagah, the only road border crossing between Amritsar and Lahore, to simultaneously lower the two nations' flags.
Pakistan has been wracked by a homegrown Taliban insurgency that has killed thousands of people in recent years, but attacks have tailed off since the army launched a major anti-militant offensive in the northwest in June.
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An HT team that visited the joint check-post in the night saw ambulances and other vehicles moving on the Pakistani side.
India's Border Security Force (BSF) troopers were put on high alert along the India-Pakistan border after the attack.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the blast. "Terror attack in Pakistan near Wagah Border is shocking. I strongly condemn such a dastardly act of terrorism," Modi tweeted.
(With inputs from agencies)