Following a gruesome attack by a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, which targeted Christians in a Lahore park on Easter, Pakistan has rounded up over 5,000 suspected militants, reports Reuters. The attacked, which killed a number of Muslims as well as Christians, has so far claimed the lives of 72 including 17 minors with the death toll expected to rise owing to the hundreds that were injured in the attack.
Massive roundup of militants by Pakistan
According to Rana Sanaullah, a state minister for Punjab province from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s ruling party, “5,221 people have initially been detained. 5,005 have been released after verifying their identities, and 216 people have been referred (in custody) for further investigation.”
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“If someone is found to be guilty, they will be charged,” Sanaullah told journalists in the Punjab province capital of Lahore. At the same time that Sanaullah was speaking with journalists, the Taliban offshoot, which has claimed responsibility made a statement on Tuesday that said that attacks would continue and specifically threatened the media.
“Right now in Rawalpindi, Multan and elsewhere, operations are ongoing, intelligence agencies and Rangers and army troops are carrying out operations,” said Army spokesman Gen. Asim Bajwa from the capital in Islamabad.
Following the attack, a spokesman for Taliban splinter group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar says: ‘We proudly take responsibility for the suicide attack in a park in Lahore. Members of the Christian community who were celebrating Easter today were our prime target’ but that ‘we didn’t want to kill women and children. Our target were male members of the Christian community.”
That will certainly come as little relief to the world community and certainly provide zero comfort to those who lost their children.
Another spokesperson for the group using social media, threatened the media specifically today.
“Everyone will get their turn in this war, especially the slave Pakistani media,” Ehsanullah Ehsan tweeted. “We are just waiting for the appropriate time.”
“Let Nawaz Sharif know that this war has now come to the threshold of his home,” tweeted Ehsan. “The winners of this war will, God willing, be the righteous mujahideen.”
Neither the splinter group nor the Taliban have a problem killing children despite suggestions to the contrary made by Tehreek-e-Taliban following the attack.
It was the worst attack Pakistan has seen since the Taliban specifically targeted children in a 2014 school massacre that killed 134 students.
The roundup will continue
Over 160 raids have already been conducted by police, counter-terrorism and intelligence agents and the army is ready to join in the operations.
Just as it did in Karachi in 2014, the civilian government of Pakistan is prepared to give the military special powers to crack-down on militants, primarily in the Punjab region.
While many Punjab leaders, including those in Prime Minister Sharif’s party, have resisted military intervention in the region, the savage nature and scope of the Easter attack has made this reluctance untenable.
Army spokesman Gen. Bajwa said all available forces will be brought to bear on suspected militants including Rangers that have been accused of human rights abuses in the past.
While over 5,000 detained sounds like a large number, the used of the military should see similar or larger numbers being reported in the coming days and weeks as PM Sharif intends a massive show of force for both his country and the world.