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22 cops die in Lahore blast
Suicide bomber blows himself up near the High Court building minutes before a planned anti-govt march by lawyers
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

A suicide bomber killed at least 26 persons, including 22 policemen, and wounded another 60 when he blew himself up amid a police contingent in Lahore on Thursday.

The blast took place ahead of a lawyers’ rally.

Police officials said just before midday a man leaped off a cycle and walked towards a line of police outside the court. At one of city’s busy cross section of The Mall, near the court, he blew himself up.

City’s police chief Malik Muhammad Iqbal said all but four of the victims were policemen.

“It appears the bomber was on foot and as soon as some policemen tried to stop him he blew himself up,” he told the Geo television channel.

A very heavy contingent of police had been deployed outside the High Court premises where lawyers had assembled to launch a rally on the main road to protest against continued detention of deposed judges and some leading lawyers.

Leaders of lawyers said they might well have been target of the bomber to scare them from continuing their agitation. But, eyewitnesses and analysts said the attacker had aimed at the police.

The bombing followed up a series of blasts during past couple of months that exclusively targeted security forces in the aftermath of Lal Masjid carnage and army operations against religious extremists in Swat.

The government declared a security alert.

When the blast took place, lawyers were holding a meeting inside the High Court precinct in preparation for their weekly anti-government demonstration. The attack comes at a time of growing crisis in Pakistan, five weeks before contentious general elections and amid soaring flour prices.

Security forces are already on high alert for Muharram, a major Shia religious festival that has traditionally seen sectarian violence, starts tomorrow.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Pakistan government has blamed a string of suicide attacks against the security forces on pro-Taliban militants from the country’s restive northwestern tribal areas.

The suicide bomber’s explosive device was packed with metal pellets, which damaged numerous vehicles within a radius of about 200 metres and also killed a horse that was pulling a tonga.

Police constables standing in front of main gate of the High Court were blown to pieces when the suicide bomber detonated his explosives at the crossing that connects the court building with the General Post Office.

Policemen cordoned off the area as investigators scoured the blast site for forensic evidence. The busy Mall Road was closed to traffic for almost three hours after the explosion.



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