Deadly Car Bomb Explodes In Lahore, Pakistan
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
We're going to catch up now on a bomb that devastated a police and intelligence headquarters in Pakistan today. NPR's Julie McCarthy is covering the story from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.
Julie, what happened?
JULIE McCARTHY: Well, authorities are confirming, Steve, that this massive explosion was a suicide car bombing. Right now they're saying they can confirm at least 19 people dead, but authorities say that is expected to climb.
There's more than 200 people who have been injured here. A police emergency rescue office has been reduced to rubble. A three-story building of Pakistan's intelligence services has been badly damaged. Twelve to 14 cars have been destroyed in what's described as a high-intensity explosion. Local media have reported that the roof of a nearby hospital has collapsed as a result of this.
Tow trucks and earthmovers are on the scene, trying to recover the dead. Local media say that the guards attempted to stop the suicide bomber while he was trying to breach the security barriers. There were also reports of intermittent gunfire with assailants who had holed up in one of these buildings. The troops rushed in, and two suspects are now in custody.
INSKEEP: Any claim of responsibility for this bombing which happened in the city of Lahore?
McCARTHY: No, but as I say the police are now interrogating these two suspects. And as these men were being escorted through the area, Steve, members of the general public were trying to pummel them. They were hurling insults at them. But the details about who these guys are or who these suspects may be connected to isn't really known yet.
There are the inevitable questions being raised about whether this represents a lapse in security. The Punjab Assembly is a stone's throw from the site of this latest suicide bombing. The area houses some of Pakistan's most sensitive institutions, the intelligence services among them. And they were badly hit today.
INSKEEP: Really interesting to hear you say that people on the streets were trying to go after these suspects, because this is a city, Lahore, that considers itself the cultural capital of Pakistan, but it's become a target for more than a few bombs in recent months.
McCARTHY: That's absolutely right. Just this year alone, militants launched a brazen attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore. And a few weeks after that, militants stormed a police training camp and unleashed this battle that killed some 20 people. So this is one more major attack in Lahore that has taken the lives of a lot of people.
INSKEEP: Now, Lahore is far away, relatively speaking, from the areas that we've been hearing about in Pakistan, the areas where the Taliban had taken some territory and where the army is now fighting to dislodge them. But could there be some connection?
McCARTHY: Well, you know, the interior minister, Rehman Malik, has called these attacks acts of terrorists in desperation. And he indirectly drew a bead back to the military offensive in Swat. That offensive is one month old as of yesterday.
And authorities have suspected that the extremists would launch retaliation attacks or stage other attacks that would divert, or try to divert, the army's attention from the Swat Valley. But the interior minister said nothing is going to stop the offensive. He said there will be no compromise in the country's fight against extremists that are destabilizing this country.
INSKEEP: And let's pick up on that word, destabilizing. Are these attacks undermining support for Pakistan's civilian government?
McCARTHY: Well, yes. I mean, people do get extremely alarmed when these attacks hit because increasingly they are going after civilian targets. What we have had up until now, principally, the biggest assaults have been against army installations, police checkpoints. Now they're against cinema houses, and children's school buses get caught up in these attacks. So there is widening concern that this must be gotten under control.
INSKEEP: Julie, thanks.
McCARTHY: Thank you.
INSKEEP: NPR's Julie McCarthy in Islamabad. This is NPR News.
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