LAHORE, Pakistan — Dozens of people, including Pakistani soldiers, died on Friday and many were seriously injured in two suicide bomb attacks directed at army personnel patrolling a busy market place, police officials said.
Police Inspector General Tariq Saleem Dogar said at least 39 people were killed and 100 injured in the two blasts.
A Lahore police officer, Sohail Sukhera, said the city in the Pakistani heartland was “in a state of war” after the explosions — the second assault in Lahore in less than a week — which came despite what he termed tight security in the army-controlled cantonment area of the city.
The attacks came only days after a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden truck into the main gate of a safe house in Lahore used for interrogation by the Pakistani military. The explosion killed at least 15 people, including guards, and flattened the building.
In addition, militants have struck several times in other parts of Pakistan this week, including an attack on Wednesday on the offices of World Vision, an American-based Christian aid group, in the northwest district of Mansehra, which killed six Pakistani employees. A bombing at a small, makeshift movie theater in the main northwest city of Peshawar killed four people.
The upsurge in violence follows a Pakistani crackdown on Taliban and Al Qaeda militants, including the arrest of the Taliban’s No. 2 commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. But no group immediately took responsibility for the latest attack on Friday.
Lahore is the biggest city in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province where the bulk of the army is recruited. The attacks here this week seemed a direct challenge to the authority and effectiveness of the military, which has sought to move against militants in recent months in Pakistan’s mountainous and often lawless areas near the border with Afghanistan.
Pakistan is a key ally of the United States in Washington’s efforts to challenge the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. A senior police officer, Supt. Muhammad Shafiq, said of Friday’s attack: “Both are suicide blasts and the target was Garrison Security Force mobile vehicles” which were “patrolling in the market at that time.” The explosion decapitated two bombers whose heads had been recovered, he said.
A witness, Nadeem Attari, whose clothes were drenched with blood, said he was attending Friday prayers in a nearby mosque when he heard the blast. “ I left the prayers and rushed outside,” he said. “Suddenly, there was another blast near an army vehicle.”
“I ran away,” he said.
Another witness, Nadeem Ahmed, who works at an automobile repair shop in the market area, said there were two blasts and the air filled with smoke.
The bombs went off in a market called R.A. Bazaar, a busy public area under army jurisdiction connecting the city with the airport and a military residential area.
The Pakistan Army sent reinforcements to the area and cordoned it off, barring reporters from entering. Army helicopters hovered overhead and the injured were transported to an army hospital.
Said Ashraf Chaudhry, 25, who lives a few hundred yards from the blast site, said he went to the rooftop of his house after he heard the explosions. “Ambulances sirens blared from all directions and an army helicopter was circling over the area,” he said. Mr. Chaudhry said the R.A Bazaar neighborhood includes several madrassas, or religious schools, which have been under pressure by the military.
He said the blasts happened near a crowded bus stop at the edge of the market. “On one side of the road, there are nice houses and the area is quite nice. And on the other side is R.A Bazaar,” he said.
Salman Masood contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.