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Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vows 'complete elimination' of militants

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has visited survivors from the Lahore attack in hospitals and vowed to avenge the bombing. The military has since stepped up its controversial crackdown on militants.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised in a televised address to take revenge against those responsible for the

deadly Lahore attack,

which saw 72 people killed and hundreds injured. At least 29 of the victims were children.

"Terrorists cannot dent our resolve. Our struggle will continue until the complete elimination of the menace of terrorism," Sharif said. The Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction of the Taliban, which once declared loyalty to the so-called "Islamic State" movement (IS) claimed responsibility for the bombing.

"Terrorists should know that failure is their fate," he said.

Targeting Sharif's power base

Sharif is expected to beef up his crackdown on extremism in the wake of the attack after the leader of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed that the organization had infiltrated the eastern city of Lahore, which is considered to be the Sharif's power base. A spokesman from his office added that the prime minister would no longer be attending the Nuclear Security Summit to be held in Washington in coming days.

Three days of mourning were announced in Pakistan's Punjab province while schools and other government institutions remained open. The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was deliberately

targeting Christians on Easter

.

Violence on Christians

The Vatican called the Easter bombing "fanatical violence against Christian minorities" with Pope Francis condemning the attack as "hideous" and demanding that Pakistani authorities protect religious minorities. UN chief Ban Ki-moon also called for Islamabad to protect religious minorities in the country.

Christians make up an estimated 1.6 percent of Pakistan's populations of 200 million and have faced discrimination in the past. Twin suicide attacks against churches in Lahore killed 17 people in March last year, sparking two days of rioting.

The country is also still scarred by a Taliban assault on a Peshawar school in 2014 that killed 150 people - mostly children. A spokesman for the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan told the Agence France Presse news agency (AFP) that the group had carried out the attack as "Christians are our target." He also vowed more assaults on schools and colleges.

Watch video 01:27

Pakistan: Suicide bomb explodes in park

Military response

A

military operation targeting Taliban insurgents

was beefed up in response to the bombing. Last year the death toll from militant attacks had fallen to its lowest since the Pakistani Taliban were formed in 2007. Several arrests have already been made.

"The PM ordered a joint operation of the counter-terrorism department and Rangers in the border areas of Punjab against terrorists and their facilitators," said one government official, referring to the paramilitary Pakistan Rangers organization.

Sharif's own party has long opposed any militarized operation against militants in its Punjab heartland and is likely to face opposition after accusations of human rights abuses surfaced during similar operations in the past in Karachi.

ss/XX (AFP, Reuters)

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