LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - A Taliban suicide bomber on Tuesday killed six people and himself in a brazen attack on police headquarters in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore, in what militants called a revenge bid for the recent hangings of colleagues.
It was the third in a series of high-profile attacks in the last month triggered by a government decision in December to begin hanging those convicted of terror attacks, reversing an informal six-year moratorium on the death penalty.
“We claim the attack in Lahore because the government is killing our men in prison,” said Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesman for powerful Taliban splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar.
“We will get revenge for every man and our struggle will continue until sharia is instituted in the country,” he said, referring to Islamic law.
In neighbouring Afghanistan, four Taliban suicide attackers stormed a police headquarters in an eastern province, killing 11 policemen, an official said.
In the Pakistani incident, Punjab police chief Mushtaq Sukhera said a policeman and four civilians were among the dead. Jam Hussain, a spokesman for the emergency services, said six bodies had been recovered along with the attacker‘s.
At least 23 people were injured, said Khawaja Salman Rafique, health adviser to the chief minister of Punjab.
Casualties would have been much greater if the police had not been alert and kept out the bomber, Lahore police chief Amin Wains told reporters at the attack site.
“It was a suicide blast, the bomber blew up prematurely outside the police offices,” he added. “That he could not enter the offices shows our security was successful.”
Ali Raza, the owner of a shop nearby, said the blast had been powerful enough to knock over one of his employees, and left body parts strewn in the street.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tried to hold peace talks with the Taliban after he came to power in elections in 2012.
But the talks failed, and last June, the military launched an offensive to drive the Taliban from their stronghold, the mountainous region of North Waziristan along the Afghan border.
Several militant attacks followed, culminating in a December Taliban massacre at a school in the northeastern city of Peshawar that killed 134 children and 19 adults.
Amid an outpouring of rage and grief, the government said it would begin carrying out executions of convicted militants on death row.
Since the executions began in January, Pakistan had suffered two other militant attacks before Tuesday‘s. Twenty people were killed this month in an attack on a Shi‘ite mosque in Peshawar, while 60 were killed in a Jan. 30 attack on a Shi‘ite mosque in the southern province of Sindh.
Additional reporting by Syed Raza Hassan in Islamabad and Saud Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Alan Raybould