Pakistani policemen and volunteers move the bodies of victims at the site of a bomb explosion in Lahore. Photo Courtesy:-(AFP/Arif ALI)

At least 13 people were killed and 82 others injured when a Taliban Suicide blast ripped an ongoing protest in the city of Lahore, Pakistan on Monday (Feb 13), a senior police official said. Pakistani officials said, it shattering a growing sense of security in the provincial capital.

The explosion occurred when hundreds of pharmaceutical manufacturers and a large group of chemists had gathered to protest against recent amendments to the provincial Drugs Act outside the provincial assembly building on Mall Road, one of Lahore’s main arteries.

The blast was so powerful that it was heard several kilometres away. “The blast was so powerful. I saw the injured and bodies, saw flames surrounding the blast site, people were crying,” witness Muhammad Tariq told AFP. Employees of local Aaj TV are among the injured and a DSNG van of the organization was destroyed in the explosion.

Police cordoned off the area near the crowded Mall Road, one of the city’s main arteries, as witnesses fled amid fears of a second blast. Local media showed images of the injured being carried away. Inspector general of police in Punjab province, Mushtaq Sukhera said at least 13 people including six policemen were killed when a blast rocked a packed protest organized by hundreds of people, mainly Pakistan’s chemists and pharmaceuticals manufacturers.

A Pakistani police officer stands alert beside the bodies of victims at the site after a powerful explosion in Lahore on February 13, 2017. Photo Courtesy:- (AFP Photo/STR)

“It was a suicide attack. The bomber exploded himself when successful negotiations were underway between police officials and the protesters,” Sukhera told Reuters.

Rescue workers, including ambulances and Punjab’s 1122, have shifted all wounded to the nearby Ganga Ram and Mayo hospitals. Pakistan Army’s soldiers and Paramilitary Rangers have also reached the site and an emergency has been declared across the city. Rescue official Deeba Shahnaz said over 10 people had died in the explosion, while some 80 others wounded people had been rushed to city hospitals, in figures confirmed by hospital sources.

A spokesman for Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a terrorist group linked with Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack. The extremist group also warned the Lahore suicide attack was the indication of a new campaign against government departments. “You are on our target across the country,” it added in a statement. The militant organization said the attack had been retribution for the Pakistan Army’s ongoing operations against the country’s tribal area extremists.

Meanwhile, in the southwestern province of Balochistan, two members of a bomb disposal squad were killed in Quetta city when they were attempting to defuse an explosive. “Commander of Quetta’s bomb disposal squad and his assistant were killed as a bomb went off when they tried to defuse it. At least 11 other people were wounded in this incident,” Abdul Razaq Cheema, a senior police official in Quetta, told AFP.

Rescue workers and voluteers load the injured on to the back of a truck to take them to hospital after a blast in Lahore, Pakistan February 13, 2017. Photo Courtesy:-REUTERS/Stringer

Earlier, on Feb. 7, the National Counterterrorism Authority had directed all government buildings to be kept under strict vigilance and warned of a possible terrorist attack in Lahore. Jamaat-ur-Ahrar (Pakistani Taliban) had also claimed responsibility for an Easter Day bombing in Lahore last year that killed more than 70 people including many children in a public park.

But such incidents generally been rare in the teeming city in recent years, with security across Pakistan improving significantly in 2015 and 2016 after the military launched a crackdown on extremism backed by a government-led National Action Plan. But Islamist groups such as the Islamic State and Pakistani Taliban still pose a threat and have carried out mass attacks.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in a statement, has condemned the attack and reiterated Pakistan is in decisive fight against terrorism while praising the sacrifices of the slain security personnel. He also directed his authorities to ensure the injured are accorded the best medical treatment.

“We have fought this fight against the terrorists among us, and will continue to fight it until we liberate our people of this cancer, and avenge those who have laid down their lives for us,” Sharif said. “We will not stop until we can call ourselves a free and secure people; that is a promise,” he said. On Monday, in a statement, the Foreign Office said that more than 60,000 people have died and $111 billion has been spent in the “staggering” cost of Pakistan’s war on extremism.