At least 42 people, including women and children, were killed and 180 others injured when three suicide bombers struck in quick succession at a famous Sufi shrine packed with thousands of worshippers in Lahore. The strike is the latest in a wave of terror attacks that have rocked Pakistan.
One attacker blew himself up at the crowded entrance to the shrine late on Thursday night and the second in the basement, where people perform ablutions before entering the complex. The third bomber detonated his explosives vest in a part of the shrine adjoining a busy market, witnesses said.
Forty two people were killed and 180 injured in the blasts, said the police. Twenty five of the injured victims were in a serious condition. Thousands of people were present at the Data Darbar shrine dedicated to Sufi saint Syed Abul Hassan bin Usman bin Ali al-Hajweri, who is considered the patron saint of Lahore, at the time of the blasts in the cultural capital of Pakistan.
District administration chief Sajjad Bhutta said all three blasts were carried out by suicide bombers. Several women and children were among the dead and injured in the blasts, officials said.
The explosions, which occurred within minutes of each other shortly after 11 pm on Thursday night, created panic among the worshippers, who ran helter-skelter. The shrine attracts large crowds every Thursday night with people visiting the complex to offer special prayers. Police cordoned off the area as rescue workers ferried the injured to nearby hospitals.
Footage on television showed debris, shoes and blood strewn across the floor of the shrine. Some shocked worshippers wept and consoled each other while others stood in the courtyard of the shrine and offered prayers.
The blast in the basement caused the most damage as the shock waves were intensified by the confined space. The explosion completely smashed the ceiling and ripped through a large number of people who were performing ablutions in the basement.
Police found the heads and body parts of two bombers and sent them for forensic tests. Officials said the suicide vests were packed with over 10 kg of explosives and ball bearings. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. However, the Taliban have opposed the practice of people visiting the shrines of Sufi saints.
President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani strongly condemned the blasts at the Data Darbar shrine. In a message, Zardari said such acts of terrorism cannot dent the government's resolve to fight the menace of terrorism and militancy to the end.
Gilani said the attack on the sacred shrine, which has sentimental value for Muslims all over the country, clearly reflects that terrorists have no consideration for any religion, faith or belief.
"These terrorists neither respect human values nor care for human lives and their brutal act is a manifestation of their evil designs," he said in his message.
Gilani said his government is committed to eradicating terrorism at all costs. Such cowardly acts indicate that terrorists, after their defeat in other areas, are resorting to attacks on innocent citizens in the cities, he said.
Radical groups consider Sufism -- a mystical movement comprising both Shias and Sunnis that spreads the message of Islam through music, poetry and dancing -- as un-Islamic. In May, suicide bombers attacked two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore and killed 82 worshippers.
The Ahmadi mosques attacks were the worst in Pakistan since a suicide bomber killed 101 people on January 1 during a volleyball game in Bannu near the restive tribal belt. Pakistani security forces have launched a massive operation against Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in the country's northwestern region bordering Afghanistan.