ISLAMABAD — Pakistan has arrested 5,221 suspects for alleged links with Islamist extremists in recent months, officials said Tuesday, days after a Taliban bomber killed 72 people.

Provincial law minister Rana Sanaullah told a televised news conference that troops and police had conducted 160 operations against militants in Punjab in the past 24 hours, saying they would continue “until the last terrorist is eliminated.”

Sanaullah, who has faced allegations of being soft on pro-Taliban militants, said police in recent months detained 5,221 suspects but freed 5,005 because of a lack of evidence. He urged citizens to assist authorities in tracking down militants.

At least 216 individuals remained in police detention.

The crackdown across several cities in the central province of Punjab started immediately after Sunday’s bombing at a public park in the eastern city of Lahore, security officials said.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, said it carried out the attack to target Christians celebrating the festival of Easter, and vowed more bombings.


More than 30 children were among the dead and around 350 people were wounded in the deadliest attack to hit Pakistan in a year, Lahore’s chief administrator Mohamed Usman said.

Around 190 injured people were being treated in hospitals, “several” of whom were in critical condition, Shaheed Saeed, a doctor at the Jinnah hospital in Lahore said on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered law enforcement agencies to speed up the offensive against the Islamist militants, who are linked with the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

“I want more proactive coordination between law enforcement and intelligence agencies,” he said on Monday.

“The terrorists have assassinated our children – sons and daughters – and God willing, we will wipe them out from this country.”

All parks in the city of Lahore remained closed on Tuesday, while other cities in Pakistan tightened security measures in public places.


In an emotional televised address to the nation overnight, Sharif vowed to chase “cowardly” terrorists until all are eliminated.

Relatives prepared to bury the victims on Tuesday as 68 of the 72 bodies were handed over to families after post-mortems, police official Asghar Ali told dpa. Four of the dead remained unidentified.

Life was slowly returning to normal in Lahore after a day of mourning. Schools and shops were open and road traffic had resumed.


In Islamabad, hundreds of Islamic extremists resumed protests in Pakistan’s capital on Tuesday over the execution of a man who killed a secular governor, in a show of defiance amid the government crackdown.

The rally by Pakistan’s Sunni Tehreek group brought more than 10,000 protesters into the streets of Islamabad on Sunday, where they clashed with police. On Tuesday, local police official Mohammad Kashif said some 700 remained, bringing parts of the capital to a standstill.


The protesters are demanding strict Shariah law after the hanging of police officer Mumtaz Qadri, who killed Gov. Salman Taseer in 2011 over his opposition to the country’s far-ranging blasphemy laws. The protesters are also demanding the hanging of a Christian woman Taseer had defended against blasphemy allegations.

Lt. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, the army spokesman, told a news conference in Islamabad that militant sleeper cells existed in various parts of the country and that operations were being carried out against militants, their financiers and abettors.

The Tehreek group behind the protests in Islamabad does not carry out militant attacks, and is not a target of the raids.

The military has been waging an offensive against militants in the North Waziristan tribal region along the Afghan border since 2014.

The army claims to have killed hundreds of alleged terrorists, and overall violence has declined since then. But militants have still managed to carry out large attacks, including a Taliban massacre at an army-run school in Peshawar in December 2014 that killed 150 people, mainly children.

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