Authorities in the capital city of the Punjab state on Sunday said that an explosion in Lahore, Pakistan had left at least 56 people dead and hundreds more injured, according to the BBC and several reporting news outlets in the region. NPR reported that the suspected suicide blast occurred around 6:40 p.m. local time in Gulshan-e-Iqbal park in the city's western region, where scores of families and individuals were enjoying a warm, hazy spring evening. The news outlet added that the bomb detonated near a collection of children's rides. Update: A Pakistani Taliban group on Sunday told the AP that it was responsible for the blast, which killed at least 60 people and wounded an additional 300, according to the most recent estimates.
"The blast was massive and has caused a lot of damage and fatalities," Jam Sajjad Hussain, a spokesman for the emergency service Rescue 112, told Al Jazeera reporters. Added Capital City Police DIG Operations' Haider Ashraf, "We cannot rule out that this was a suicide attack but things will be clear soon."
So far, no group has come forward to claim responsibility for the blast, although according to BBC reporter Shaimaa Khalil, police suspect that the large gathering of Christian families celebrating the Easter holiday may have been the target. Police superintendent Mustansar Feroz told Reuters that many of "the dead and injured [were] women and children." He added that more than 100 people had been injured in the explosion. By late on Sunday, Punjab Health Minister Salman Rafique had confirmed that the number of injured had risen to 150.
According to Reuters, Punjab has notably been one of the area's more peaceful regions. In 2014, when Pakistani forces took offensive measures against jihadist fighters and the Taliban, in an effort to drive apart terrorist safe-havens that might breed violent activity against Pakistani and Afghan citizens, Punjab largely kept itself isolated, drawing sharp critiques from outsiders who believed that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was "tolerating militancy in return for peace in his province." The attack on Sunday took place at what the news outlet noted was the "heart" of Sharif's political base.
"I was a few blocks away from the blast, many people were running and screaming like the world has collapsed," one witness told Al Jazeera reporters. "Until when will we see our loved ones getting killed in such attacks?"
Rafique told reporters on Sunday night that officials had "declared emergency" for all hospitals in the city. "We are in a state of emergency," he said, according to NBC's Mushtaq Yusufzai. "All the hospitals are under emergency. All ambulances [have] been called to site of the blast as a large number of people, the majority of them women and children, are injured."
U.S. National Security Council spokesman Ned Price released a statement condemning the attack "in the strongest terms", after news of the blast reached Washington on Sunday morning local time. "This cowardly act in what has long been a scenic and placid park has killed dozens of innocent civilians and left scores injured," Price said, according to USA Today. "We send our deepest condolences to the loves ones of those killed, just as our thoughts and prayers are with the many injured in the explosion. The United States stands with the people of Pakistan at this difficult hour."