LAHORE: A Taliban suicide bomber today struck a police team near residence-cum-office of Pakistan's Punjab province Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif here, killing at least 26 people, including policemen, and wounding 58 others.
Lahore police chief Capt (R) Amin Wains confirmed that it was a suicide attack and the "target was police".
"A suicide bomber on a motorcycle approached the police contingent deployed at the anti-encroachment drive outside the Arfa Karim Tower, near the CM's Model Town residence, and blew himself up," Wains said.
He said at least 26 people, including nine policemen, were killed in the blast that also wounded 58 others. One Sub-Inspector, 1 ASI and 7 Constables were among the dead.
The chief minister, who is also the brother of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was in a meeting at his Model Town office when the blast took place.
The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed the responsibility for the attack.
"Fida Hussain Swati - a member of our suicide squad today attacked the infidels on a motorcycle," TTP spokesman Muhammad Khurasani said in a statement.
"Our message to the front line allies of infidels not to come in our way as we will impose Allah's system on this land," he added.
The Lahore police chief said the initial investigation showed that the bomber used some 10-kg explosive in his suicide vest.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief General Qamar Javed
Bajwa condemned the blast and vowed to continue the war against terrorism in Pakistan till elimination of the last terrorist.
"No words can express the grief which grips my heart now. The blast destroyed many families but terrorists can never destroy our resolve," Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said.
"Our blood was spilt on the street but I swear to my Allah that the blood of our innocent martyrs will write end of these cowardly assassins!," he tweeted.
Rescue 1122 spokesperson Deeba Shahnaz told PTI that police and Lahore Development Authority officials were busy in removing encroachments outside the Arfa Karim Tower near Model Town when the powerful blast took place at 3.55 PM.
She said 20 people died on the spot while remaining six succumbed to their injuries in hospitals. "Causalities may rise as the condition of at least five injured is stated to be critical," she said.
Emergency was declared in the city hospitals and people were appealed to donate blood. Army personnel also participated in the rescue operation.
"29 injured persons are being treated at Lahore General Hospital, 9 in Jinnah and 18 in Ittefaq hospital," the official Twitter account of the Government of Punjab tweeted.
Many of injured are policemen. Several bystanders were wounded by the impact of the powerful blast.
The area has been cordoned off by a heavy contingent of security forces and the section of the road has been sealed. "I was at my shop and watching the LDA staff demolishing a small illegal structure when a powerful blast occurred. I fell on the ground due to its impact. Once a cloud of smoke evaporated I saw a number of people lying in the pool of blood there," eyewitness Asif Hamid said.
Another eyewitness, injured police constable Murtaza, said the policemen were standing under the shadow of a tree when he saw a motorcyclist approaching them.
"I heard a bang and fell unconscious. I regained consciousness at the Service Hospital," he said.
Opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party leader Imran Khan announced two-day mourning saying no political activity would be held until Wednesday.
Lahore, the cultural capital of Pakistan, has witnessed several terror attacks in recent years.
In April, six persons were killed and 15 others injured when a suicide bomber targeted a population census team in Lahore's Bedian Road.
In February, a suicide bomber killed 14 people, including senior police officers, near the Punjab Assembly here.