Associated Press Wire

Feb 23, 10:45 AM EST

Pakistani official: Explosion kills 8 in city of Lahore


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LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) -- Explosives in a building under construction ignited Thursday, ripping through a market in an upscale neighborhood in the eastern city of Lahore, killing eight people, officials said. It was not immediately clear whether the explosives were meant to be a bomb or merely stored in the building.

The news came as a shock to many in this Islamic nation, where a string of brazen attacks claimed by Pakistani Taliban over the past two weeks have killed more than 125 people. Islamabad claims that Pakistani Taliban use Afghan soil to stage terrorist attacks across Pakistan, a charge Kabul denies.

Thursday's blast was so powerful that it shattered windows of nearby buildings and damaged vehicles parked outside a market in the Defense Housing Authority, said Rana Sanaullah, provincial law minister.

Nearly 30 people were wounded in the blast that the provincial Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) said was caused when explosives inside the building ignited.

Mohammad Iqbal, spokesman for the CTD, told reporters that investigators were still trying to determine the purpose of storing explosive material in the building, and whether it was an improvised explosive device or remote control device.

Lahore police operations chief Haider Ashraf said the explosion took place inside a building that was under construction and where laborers were working at the time.

Earlier, live local TV footage showed smoke rising from a part of a restaurant that was under construction. The explosion was so powerful it littered the parking area outside the building with broken glass and debris. Dust and smoke covered dozens of cars parked outside, their windscreens and rear windows shattered.

The restaurant is located in a neighborhood called Defense Housing Authority, which includes several marketplaces and shopping areas. The area is under control of the military backed department - a common practice across Pakistan in better-off residential areas - and housing is mainly given to people working for the armed forces, though civilians can also buy plots and build homes.

Recent attacks across Pakistan have been claimed by an array of militant groups, including the Islamic State group and a splinter Taliban faction, and have prompted a countrywide crackdown on militants.

In just one bombing last week, which was claimed by IS and which targeted a revered Sufi shrine packed with Muslim worshippers - the majority of them Shiites - at least 90 people were killed.

Pakistan has been at war with the Taliban and allied Islamic militants who want to destabilize the nuclear-armed country to install their own harsh interpretation of Islam.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, speaking to reporters during an official visit to Turkey on Thursday, asked Afghanistan to act against those militants who are using Afghan soil for terrorist attacks in Pakistan. He also said Pakistani security forces backed by the army will take all steps to eliminate terrorism.

Sharif's comments came hours after the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, Omar Zakhilwal, demanded the reopening of border crossings closed by Islamabad in the wake of the shrine bombing. Pakistan says any decision about reopening the crossings "will be taken in due course."

There was no immediate comment from Kabul in response to Sharif's comments.

But earlier in the day, Shekib Mustaghni, the Afghan foreign ministry spokesman, said Afghanistan was ready to seek United Nations sanctions against suspected terrorist networks and their supporters, a veiled reference to Pakistan. Kabul accuses Pakistan of aiding Taliban insurgents, particularly the Haqqani network.

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Ahmed reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writers Asif Shahzad in Islamabad and Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report.

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