LAHORE -- At least five people were killed and up to 18 wounded in a Taliban suicide blast that targeted a census team in Lahore Wednesday (April 5), officials said.
Witnesses described being knocked to the ground by the blast just after 8am, then a "horrible scene" of blood and bodies and the sound of crying.
The attack on Bedian Road, which the military confirmed was a suicide blast, was quickly claimed by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The TTP said it had carried out the attack in revenge on security forces.
Farhan Aslam, a student, said he and his father were knocked from their bicycle.
"I saw two dead bodies on the spot and others crying," he told AFP from the hospital.
Punjab Health Minister Khawaja Imran Nazir confirmed five people had been killed. Three of them were soldiers and two were civilians, a security source told AFP.
At least 18 were wounded, including a child who was in critical condition, said rescuers.
The bomber attacked a van carrying military personnel who were part of a team carrying out a census count, the Pakistan Board of Statistics confirmed.
Teams of enumerators backed by the military and security forces are carrying out Pakistan's first census since 1998, an enormous and highly charged task that could redraw the country's political map one year before parliamentary elections.
"The census is a national duty, and we will complete this task," Lahore official Abdullah Sumbal said. "There was no lack of security, but you know how difficult it is to deal with suicide attacks."
Chief Census Commissioner Asif Bajwa expressed resolve that the census would continue undeterred and be completed on time.
Pakistan's political and military leaders condemned the attack.
Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif expressed condolences for all who lost their lives and paid tribute to the army personnel "who were targeted while performing their duties during the national census".
He directed the relevant authorities to extend all requisite assistance to the provincial government.
Conducting the census is a "national obligation", Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa said in a statement.
"Sacrifice of precious lives of civil enumerators and soldiers is beyond any doubt a great sacrifice," he said. "These sacrifices will only strengthen our resolve and with the support of entire nation we will cleanse the menace of terrorism from our soil."
"Such cowardly attacks cannot shake our national resolve in rooting out the menace of terrorism and extremism," said President Mamnoon Hussain.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif directed authorities to submit a report on the blast and said those responsible for killing innocent people will face legal action.
Pakistani citizens expressed unity against all forms of terrorism and extremism.
"Action [should] be taken against militants belonging to all schools of thought ... to eliminate them," Awami National Party General Secretary Mian Iftikhar Hussain told Pakistan Forward.
"The militants will never succeed in advancing ... their agenda of creating anarchy because the people have rejected all arguments presented by militants in support of their attacks on security forces," he said.
"Militants attack unwary people to show that they are still around," he said, adding that the public will not succumb to fear.
"The whole nation has been condemning bombs and suicide attacks with one voice because they kill members of the army, police and paramilitary forces who give their lives to protect others, he said.
Militants deserve condemnation for killing soldiers and ordinary Pakistanis, said Muhammad Zubair of the FATA Students Organisation.
"More than 8 million FATA residents have had their lives and property wrecked by endless militancy," he told Pakistan Forward. "The decade-long insurgency has badly affected the education and health system in tribal areas, where nobody supports militants."
Operation Zarb-e-Azb "has become a ray of hope for displaced people who are now returning to their areas after the eviction of militants", he said, referring to the army's offensive against the TTP in North Waziristan since June 2014.
Muhammad Junaid Mohmand, a political science student at the University of Peshawar, condemned "the ruthlessness shown by militants against the general public".
"Following militants' retreat from FATA after the [Zarb-e-Azb], they are now looking for soft targets," he told Pakistan Forward. "The government must expedite the campaign against violence-makers to establish a peaceful society where rule of law reigns supreme."
"The entire nation is united on one point: that terrorism should be fought with an iron hand," Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party leader Shah Farman told Pakistan Forward.
He expressed hope that Pakistan is on its way to an era of complete peace.
"Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in particular has shown tangible progress in reducing incidents of terrorism," he said. "Security forces have fought militants bravely with public support."
[Ashfaq Yusufzai in Peshawar contributed to this report.]