Twin suicide bombings kill scores in Pakistani city

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Map shows location of twin bombings in Lahore, Pakistan
By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 12, 2010; 11:42 AM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Twin suicide bombings targeting an army convoy ripped through a densely populated neighborhood bazaar in the eastern city of Lahore on Friday, killing at least 43 people, police said.

Authorities reported a third explosion later in the day near a police station. It appeared to be a car bomb and officials feared more casualties.

The powerful attack came four days after a suicide bombing at an intelligence services facility in the city killed at least 14 people, and it followed smaller attacks this week in Pakistan's volatile northwest borderlands. The string of assaults sparked fears that militants who recently seemed to be hobbled had regrouped, just as they have after past setbacks.

Police said the two bombers earlier in the day struck a densely populated bazaar in a neighborhood containing several offices of security agencies, the prime target of Pakistan's Islamist insurgents. But most victims of the lunchtime blasts were civilians such as shoppers, parents picking up their children from school, and worshipers heading toward a mosque for Friday prayers.

Dozens of people -- nearly 100, by some accounts -- were injured in the blasts and were shuttled to six city hospitals. Medical authorities pleaded for blood donations.

Witnesses to the blasts complained in television interviews that security in the middle-class area was not tight enough. Intelligence officials warned last week that suicide bombers were planning to strike the city, and police in Lahore said they were on high alert in recent days.

"If somebody is determined to kill . . . there is no strategy that can work, so far, in the world," Khusro Pervez, the Lahore city commissioner, told Dawn television.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Friday's attack. The Pakistani Taliban, an offshoot of the Afghan group of the same name, asserted responsibility for Monday's attack in Lahore.

Pervez told Dawn that India -- Pakistan's mortal foe -- was behind the bombings, although he offered no evidence. Pakistani authorities often blame outside forces for attacks that are claimed by domestic militant groups, some of which are based in the province surrounding Lahore.

The Pakistani Taliban, which is based in the rugged tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, slowed its attacks last summer after its leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a U.S. drone strike. The organization soon picked a new leader and, by October, unleashed a new campaign of suicide bombings.

Military offensives and stepped-up American missile strikes dealt fresh setbacks to the group and its new leader, causing bombings to drop off in recent months. That chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, is believed to have been killed in a drone strike in January.

But shattering the Taliban, an umbrella group of varied militant factions, does not necessarily make it easier to contain. Sub-groups with the capacity to stage even single bombings, some analysts say, can wreak havoc and deplete public confidence in Pakistan's security forces and weak government.

"We've been hearing that their backs are broken for quite some time," defense analyst Masood Shareef Khattak told the television station Express News. "I don't see all this ending anywhere in the near future or even in the distant future."

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