Twin suicide attacks kill 26 in Lahore
Two huge suicide car bombs ripped through a police building and an advertising office in Lahore Tuesday, killing 26 people and posing a fresh challenge to Pakistan's incoming government.
The deadliest blast demolished much of the eight-storey federal police headquarters in the heart of the eastern city, and the other hit an advertising agency several kilometres (miles) away. Two children were among the dead.
Shortly after the attacks the Australian cricket team said they were cancelling an upcoming tour to Pakistan, due to security fears caused by a wave of violence across the country that has killed more than 600 people this year.
Rescue workers in orange jackets frantically clawed through the debris at the site of the blast at the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which deals mainly with immigration and people smuggling, an AFP reporter said.
"It was a suicide attack on the FIA office and it was the target," Lahore police chief Malik Mohammad Iqbal told AFP, adding that at least 21 people were killed in the bombing and more than 100 wounded.
Lawyer Wali Mohammed Khan, who was on the second floor of the building when the explosion happened, said the blast was "so intense that I was literally blown off my chair."
"There was blood everywhere. I also saw mutilated limbs and body parts scattered around the reception area of the building," Khan told AFP.
FIA chief Tariq Pervaz said paramedics were "trying to rescue survivors from under the rubble." FIA sources said that at least 10 employees were among the dead.
The building also housed the offices of a US-trained special investigation unit created to counter terrorism, which was possibly the intended target, security officials said.
Pools of blood and small pieces of human flesh lay scattered on the ground outside the eight-storey building, along with clothes and pairs of shoes that were abandoned by people as they ran away.
The explosion tore off the facade of the building, exposing stairwells down which rescue workers could be seen carrying stretchers. Windows up to two kilometres (just over a mile away) were shattered and several cars set ablaze.
The second near-simultaneous blast was also caused by a suicide car bomb and hit an advertising agency in an upscale neighbourhood of the city, killing another four people, including two children, police said.
"An explosives-laden vehicle was rammed into the office," interior ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema said. It was not immediately clear why the advertising firm was targeted.
President Pervez Musharraf, a key US ally in the "war on terror", condemned the "savage act" and said the "acts of terrorism cannot deter government's resolve to fight the scourge with full force," state media reported.
The explosions came a week after two suicide bombers struck a naval college in Lahore, killing at least five people, in the third attack to hit the previously peaceful city this year.
Pakistan has been rocked by six major blasts since parliamentary polls on February 18, which were won by the opposition parties of slain ex-premier Benazir Bhutto and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
Bhutto herself was killed in a suicide attack in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on December 27.
Musharraf on Tuesday summoned the new parliament to meet on March 17, his spokesman Rashid Qureshi told AFP -- finally setting up showdown with his rivals that could potentially further destabilise the nuclear-armed nation.
Bhutto's widower Asif Ali Zardari and Sharif on Sunday agreed to form a coalition government that is expected to take on Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999, but they must also grapple with the tide of violence engulfing the country.
Pakistan has been combating an Islamist insurgency led by Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters since Musharraf joined the US-led "war on terror" in 2001, but the violence has soared since the start of 2007.