Three terror groups have separately claimed responsibility for a suicide attack at the Wagah checkpoint near Lahore that killed at least 61 people including 10 women, eight children and three security men on Sunday evening, reports the Hindustan Times.
The checkpoint is the site of a colorful daily military ritual called the “beating retreat.” The ceremony was called off – for the first time since the countries first went to war, in 1971 – as a result of the bombing, which took place on the Pakistani side, some 500 meters from the international border.
Border Security Force (BSF) chief DK Pathak said there would be no beating retreat ceremony at Wagah for three days from Monday at the request of Pakistan.
Every day before sunset, soldiers from Pakistan and India gather at Wagah, the only road border crossing between Amritsar and Lahore, to simultaneously lower the two nations' flags.
Most of the people who died in the blast were returning from the ceremony. No Indian troops were hurt.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed strong military operations against terrorists in the wake of the attack – the deadliest to hit the country in six months. Sharif and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi both condemned the latest strike.
Pakistan's Taliban insurgency has killed thousands of people in recent years.
BSF chief Pathak said the BSF had received some information two weeks ago that terror groups may try to strike during the beating retreat ceremony. A home ministry official too said there were alarms about a possible strike.
"India's external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing, had got intelligence inputs some 15 days back indicating that the flag-lowering might be targeted by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)," he said on condition of anonymity.
Al Qaeda-affiliated militant group Jundullah (Soldiers of Allah), a splinter group of the TTP, was the first to claim the responsibility for the attack.
Taliban splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar too said its bomber, Hafiz Hanifullah, carried out the attack. Later, a lesser-known Mahar Mehsud group also claimed responsibility for the bombing.
The overnight death toll in the suicide attack mounted to 61 on Monday afternoon. Security agencies have arrested about 20 suspects from the Indo-Pak border area.
Ten women, eight children and three security personnel were among the 61 people who have died in the attack. Over 100 people were injured in the incident and are being treated in Lahore hospitals.
At least 15 to 20 kg of explosives were used in the blast, with some of the explosives in the attacker's suicide jacket and the remaining being carried by him.
Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution, a former adviser on South Asia to U.S. presidents, told the Daily Mail that "The target – the border facility that symbolizes trade and interaction between India and Pakistan - is a tempting one for extremist Pakistani groups that want conflict with India and oppose any detente or cooperation with New Delhi."