45 killed in suicide blast at Pakistan-India border

2014-11-02 20:27


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Lahore - A suicide bomber killed at least 45 people on Sunday at the main Pakistan-India border crossing, the blast tearing through crowds of spectators leaving after the colourful daily ceremony to close the frontier.

The blast came at Wagah border gate near the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore after the "flag-lowering" ceremony, a display of military pageantry that attracts thousands of spectators every day and is popular with foreign tourists.

The attack is a rare strike in Punjab, Pakistan's richest and most populous province and powerbase of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which has been spared the worst of the bloody wave of Islamist violence that has assailed the country in recent years.

"It appears to have been a suicide attack. At least 45 people have been killed, women and children were also killed," Mushtaq Sukhera, the Punjab provincial police chief, told AFP. At least 60 were wounded in the blast.

Lahore police chief Amin Wains confirmed it was a suicide attack.

"People were returning after watching the parade at Wagah border when the blast took place. Ball bearings were found at the scene," he said.

Huge crowds gather on both sides at Wagah each sunset to see the display of military pageantry that accompanies the formal closing of the border post. It appears the blast took place some distance from the border itself.

Tahir Javed, Punjab provincial commander of the Rangers paramilitary force that guards the post, said three of his men had been killed.

"The suicide bomber failed to cross the security barrier and blew himself up outside when people were coming out," he said.

There are several security checkpoints on the road leading to the border post, which is equipped with a ceremonial gate and banked seating, and spectators are frisked before entering, though such searches are not always particularly rigorous.

Years of bloodshed

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Pakistan has been wracked by a homegrown Taliban insurgency that has killed thousands of people in recent years.

But attacks, once a near-daily occurrence, have tailed off since the army launched a major anti-militant offensive in the northwest.

In June the army began a long-awaited operation against militant hideouts in the North Waziristan tribal area, after a bloody raid on Karachi Airport ended faltering peace talks between the government and the Taliban.

More than 1 100 militants and 100 soldiers have been killed since the start of the operation and more than 100 militants have surrendered, according to the military.

The Pakistani authorities have also said they are becoming concerned about the possible spread of the influence of the Islamic State group, which has declared a "caliphate" in parts of Iraq and Syria.

As well as being one of restive Pakistan's few tourist attractions, Wagah is also the main land crossing with India and much of their trade transits through it.

The neighbours have had frosty relations since independence from Britain in 1947, fighting three full wars, two over the Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

Sunday's attack comes amid heightened tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours after a resurgence of cross-border shelling along the disputed frontier in Kashmir.

It also comes with Pakistan on high security alert for the festival of Ashura, which is marked by minority Shiite Muslims with mourning processions that are potential targets for sectarian militants.

Last year saw deadly clashes erupt in the capital Islamabad's twin city Rawalpindi.

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