Lahore, Pakistan – Pakistani authorities have decided to launch a full-scale crackdown involving the paramilitary Rangers, government and security officials told Reuters. The move would come as a result of the suicide bombing that took place on Easter and was claimed by Jamaat-e-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban.
The Rangers would be authorized to carry out raids and interrogate suspects, similarly to the operation they have been conducting in the southern city of Karachi for the past two years.
The plan has not yet been officially announced and the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to share details of the operation, which would represent one more move in which the civilian government grants special powers to the military to combat Islamist extremists.
“The technicalities are yet to be worked out. There are some legal issues also with bringing in Rangers, but the military and government are on the same page,” one senior security official told Reuters.
The Easter attack’s target remains unclear
Police said a suicide bomber had detonated explosives in a vest at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, one of the largest public parks in Lahore. The attack occurred during the evening rush hour on Sunday and the terror group said it had targeted Christians since a large number of Christian families had visited the park on Easter.
However, Pakistani officials were rather skeptical about the claim because most of the victims were Muslims. The local news media said the death toll has risen to 71, with 341 people injured.
Lt. Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, military’s chief spokesman, announced on Monday that there had been raids conducted in three cities in Punjab Province after the terrorist attack and a “number of terrorists and facilitators were arrested,” the New York Times reported. But he did not release the names of those taken into custody or whether they had been involved in Easter’s bombing.
The first police report stated that an officer had approached four young men on Sunday evening near the entrance to the park. Three of them escaped, but the fourth man ran through the gate and managed to detonate at least 10 kilograms of explosives, according to the report.
Lahore appeared in mourning on Monday, with the majority of shopping areas closed and security forces on high alert throughout the Pakistani cultural and political capital. Given the security concerns, authorities cancelled a three-day Spring Festival at Race Course Park.
“Our goal is not only to eliminate terror infrastructure but also the extremist mindset, which is a threat to our way of life”, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Monday during a meeting with senior government officials.
He added that his government was getting stronger, while the terrorists were trying for soft targets.