Pakistan suicide attacks kill 42 at shrine

People in Lahore are on alert after two suicide bombers struck a popular Muslim shrine in Pakistan's second largest city, killing 42 people and wounding at least 180 others.

People in Lahore are on alert after two suicide bombers struck a popular Muslim shrine in Pakistan's second largest city, killing 42 people and wounding at least 180 others.

The bombers attacked late Thursday as thousands of people visited the Data Darbar shrine, where a famous Sufi saint is buried. Lahore has experienced a growing number of attacks as Taliban fighters along the northwest border with Afghanistan have teamed up with militant groups once supported by the government in the country's heartland.

Devotees stand near wreckage left in the aftermath of multiple suicide bomb attacks at Data Durbar shrine early Friday morning in Lahore, Pakistan. ((Mohsin Raza/Reuters))

Security video showed the blasts scattering terrified worshippers as white plumes of smoke blanketed the area.

The first bomber detonated his explosives in a large underground room where visitors sleep and wash themselves before praying, said Khusro Pervez, the top government official in Lahore. The attack occurred as volunteers handed out food to people visiting the shrine, said Chaudary Mohammed Shafique, a senior police official.

Minutes later, a second bomber detonated his explosives upstairs in a large courtyard in front of the shrine as people tried to flee the first attack, said Pervez. Police investigated a possible third blast, but later concluded there were only two bombers.

The blasts ripped concrete from the walls, twisted metal gates and left wires hanging from the ceiling, television footage showed. Blood stained the shrine's white marble floor.

"It was a horrible scene," said Mohammed Nasir, a volunteer security guard at the shrine who was getting ready to pray when the first blast occurred. "There were dead bodies all around with blood and people were crying."

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Police initially said they were investigating the source of a third blast but concluded there were only two suicide bombers, whose heads were later found, said Pervez.

At least 25 of those wounded in the attacks were in critical condition, he said.

Protesters criticize security gaps

Demonstrators gathered outside the shrine in the hours after the bombings, protesting the security lapse. Police fired into the air and threw rocks to disperse the protesters.

Lahore, the capital of Pakistan's most prosperous province, Punjab, and a key political, military and cultural centre, has been the scene of some of the most spectacular attacks in the country over the past year.

On May 28, gunmen and a suicide squad lobbed grenades and sprayed bullets in attacks on two mosques in the eastern city packed with worshippers from the minority Ahmadi sect. At least 93 people were killed and dozens wounded.

The government has been criticized for lacking the will to crack down on militants in Punjab, many of whom are part of now banned groups that started with government support in the 1980s and '90s to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and pressure India.

Many of these groups have formed links with the Pakistani Taliban, which have recruited militants to carry out attacks in parts of Pakistan far from their sanctuary in the northwest.

One of the most high-profile attacks in Lahore came in March 2009, when militants armed with rocket launchers, hand grenades and assault rifles attacked Sri Lanka's cricket team and security detail, killing six police officers and a driver and wounding seven players and a coach.

That assault led to the suspension of international cricket matches in Pakistan.

In October 2009, teams of gunmen attacked three security facilities in Lahore, leaving 28 dead. In December 2009, two bombs killed 48 at a market in the city.