Pakistan is cracking down on Islamist militants in Punjab, the country’s richest and most populous province, after 70 people were killed in an Easter Day bombing in the provincial capital Lahore.
The Pakistani Taliban’s Jamaat-ur-Ahrar faction claimed responsibility for Sunday’s suicide bombing at a public park, Reuters reports, citing officials.
The group is loyal to Islamic State and said it is targeting Christians.
The brutal attack, Jamaat-ur-Ahrar’s fifth bombing since December, reflects the movement’s attempts to raise its profile among Pakistan’s increasingly fractured Islamist militants.
At least 29 children enjoying an Easter weekend outing were among those killed when the suicide bomber struck in a busy park in the eastern city of Lahore, the power base of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Pakistan is a majority-Muslim state but has a Christian population of more than two million.
Pope Francis condemned the attack as “hideous” and demanded that Pakistani authorities protect religious minorities.
It was Pakistan’s deadliest attack since the December 2014 massacre of 134 school children at a military-run academy in the city of Peshawar that prompted a government crackdown on Islamist militancy.
Security and government officials told Reuters the decision had been made to launch a full-scale operation involving the paramilitary Rangers, who would have powers to conduct raids and interrogate suspects in the same way as they have been doing in the southern city of Karachi for more than two years.
The move, which has not yet been formally announced, represents the civilian government once again granting special powers to the military to fight Islamist militants.
“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,” said one senior security official, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to share details of the plan.
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