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Taliban faction says it carried out attack

The Taliban faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar on Sunday claimed responsibility for the suicide bomb attack that killed at least 65 people in Lahore, saying its target was the country's small Christian minority.

"The target was Christians," said Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesman for the faction. "We want to send this message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered Lahore. He can do what he wants but he won't be able to stop us. Our suicide bombers will continue these attacks."

The attack was essentially a strike at the heart of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's political base of Punjab. The province has traditionally been more peaceful than other parts of Pakistan though the Prime Minister's opponents have accused him of tolerating militancy in return for peace in his province, a charge he strongly denies.

The blast occurred in the parking area of Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, a few feet from children's swings.

Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 190 million people, is plagued by a Taliban insurgency, criminal gangs and sectarian violence. Punjab is its biggest and wealthiest province.

Eyewitnesses said they saw body parts strewn across the parking lot once the dust had settled after the blast. "When the blast occurred, the flames were so high they reached above the trees and I saw bodies flying in the air," said Hasan Imran, 30, a resident who came to the park for a walk.

Salman Rafique, a health adviser to the Punjab provincial government, put the death toll at a minimum 60 people. "There are more than 280 injured people," Rafique said. "Many are in operation theatres now being treated and we fear that the death toll may climb considerably."

Mustansar Feroz, police superintendent for the area in which the park is located, said most of the injured and dead were women and children.

Media footage showed children and women standing in pools of blood outside the park, crying and screaming, and rescue officials, policemen and bystanders carrying injured people to ambulances and private cars.

Dozens of women and children were seen being wheeled into hospitals, covered in blood. Many of the injured were transported to hospitals on taxis and auto-rickshaws due to a shortage of ambulances. Hundreds of citizens arrived outside hospitals to donate blood.

Local television channels reported that many of the dead bodies were being kept in hospital wards as morgues were overcrowded.

"We were just here to have a nice evening and enjoy the weather," Nasreen Bibi said at the Services Hospital, crying as she waited for doctors to update her on the condition of her two-year-old injured daughter.

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