A day of carnage in Pakistan was capped by twin blasts that ripped through a crowded marketplace in the eastern city of Lahore on Monday evening, killing more than 40 and injuring more than 100, according to the provincial law minister.
Earlier, a suicide bomb in the northwestern city of Peshawar killed more than 11, bringing the day's death toll to more than 50. Although no group has claimed responsibility for either attack, most analysts believe the blasts are linked and that the Pakistani Taliban is behind them.
"This is the work of the same terrorists whom our Army is fighting in Swat and Waziristan," provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah told the Monitor while visiting the site of the bombing. The targeting of Lahore's Moon Market area signaled a "new pattern" in terror attacks in the city, as nearly all previous blasts were aimed at the police or intelligence agencies, he added. Officials said the bombs were detonated remotely.
Rescue efforts continue
Rescue workers continued to dig through the rubble of buildings late into the night, hoping to find more survivors.
The Moon Market area is home to various food stalls, beauty parlors, banks, and clothing shops.
Fire crews battled flames for several hours after the blasts, in which some trapped shoppers were burned to death..
"I managed to pick up some of the women and children, but there were too many and I couldn't go back because of the smoke and flames," Salman, a shopkeeper in the area, told private news channel Express 24/7.
Rescue officials reported that a large number of the dead were women and children, including two brides-to-be who were receiving their bridal makeup at the time of the attack.
Haven no more?
Lahore, Pakistan's cultural hub, was until recently considered the most safe of Pakistan's major cities. Over the past two years, however, the city's security forces have come under repeated fire by terrorists.
In October, a coordinated triple strike on two police academies and an intelligence agency office killed 38. In April, a commando-style raid on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team left six police officers and two civilians dead.
The city's famous theaters and concert venues have also been targeted by extremists, albeit on a much smaller scale with few casualties.
"How can the people behind this claim to be Muslims?" asks Ali Pervaiz, a resident of the Moon Market area. "There are no words to describe them. They are kaffirs [unbelievers]. They will all go to hell."