RAWALPINDI: Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif chaired a high-level security meeting on Monday to review the progress of a paramilitary operation in Punjab province launched to hunt down terrorists behind the deadly suicide bombing in Lahore which claimed over 70 lives.
More than 300 people were injured in the attack on Sunday evening in the busy Gulshan-i-Iqbal park in Lahore which killed mostly women and children enjoying an Easter weekend outing.
According to a press statement by DG ISPR Lt-Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, intelligence agencies with Army and Rangers have so far carried out five operations in Lahore, Faisalabad, and Multan since the attack in the busy Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park in Lahore.
"Operations continue with more leads coming in," said the military spokesman.
A "number of suspected terrorists and facilitators (have been) arrested and a huge cache of arms and ammunition" have been recovered, he said.
According to well-informed sources, the military crackdown has been launched against banned terrorists outfits across Punjab, the country's most populous province.
Sources confirmed that the anti-terror crackdown has been launched on the orders of the Army chief and will commence with operations in southern Punjab, long believed to be a hotbed of religious extremism and militancy.
The sources added that troops from the Army and Rangers will take part in the crackdown, and that the military’s Corps Commander in Lahore will be regularly apprised of the progress of the operation.
Sunday's terrorist attack was the deadliest in since the December 2014 massacre of 134 school children at Army Public School in the city of Peshawar that prompted a military-led crackdown on militancy and terrorism.
"We must bring the killers of our innocent brothers, sisters and children to justice and will never allow these savage inhumans to over-run our life and liberty," military spokesman Asim Bajwa had quoted the Army chief as saying in an earlier post on Twitter.
On Sunday, Gen Raheel Sharif directed concerned commanders and intelligence agencies to kick off the operation in Punjab to bring the perpetrators of the deadly Lahore suicide attack to justice.
A military statement said the decision was taken at a high-level military meeting headed by the Army chief, and also attended by DG Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and DG Military Intelligence (MI).
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's office condemned the blast as a cowardly act and said a response had been ordered, without elaborating.
Lahore is the capital of Punjab province and is seen as the country's political and cultural heartland. Markets, schools and courts in the city were closed on Monday as the city mourned.
The Punjab government has announced three days of mourning. The provincial governments of Sindh, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are also observing a day of mourning today.