Police investigate apparent attack on census team and soldiers guarding them in country’s second-biggest city, Lahore.
An explosion has targeted a Pakistani government census team, killing at least five people in the eastern city of Lahore, officials say.
The blast on Wednesday morning in Pakistan’s second-largest city also wounded at least nine people wounded, all suffering from major injuries, according to a source at Lahore’s General Hospital, where they were being treated.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) group claimed responsibility, saying it was a suicide attack.
Khwaja Imran Nazir, the provincial health minister in Punjab province, confirmed the death toll while speaking to media outside the hospital.
“The target seems to be the census team and the soldiers guarding them,” Malik Ahmed Khan, a spokesperson for the provincial government, told local television news channel Geo.
MIitary sources told Al Jazeera that four military personnel – three army soldiers and one member of the air force – were killed in the attack.
‘Act of terrorism’
Rana Sanaullah, a senior provincial minister, told Geo that the attack “appeared to be an act of terrorism”.
“Sacrifice of precious lives of civil enumerators and soldiers is beyond any doubt a great sacrifice,” Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s army chief, said in a statement, without giving any details about the number of soldiers killed in the bombing.
“Conduct of census will be completed at any cost.”
Pakistan’s Bureau of Statistics launched its first door-to-door population census since 1998 last month, working in conjunction with the military, which has deployed 200,000 troops to provide security for the exercise.
At least 119,000 government employees are taking part in the exercise as enumerators.
The lead-up to the census has been marked by political debate on how the results may show changing demographics – potentially redrawing electoral constituencies – across the country.
Television footage from the scene showed a destroyed vehicle and debris scattered on the road, as police formed a security cordon around the site’s perimeter.
Surge in violence
Pakistan has seen a surge in violence in the last two months, starting with a series of attacks that killed more than 130 people in mid-February.
Those attacks were claimed by the Pakistani Taliban and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.
At least 13 people were killed in Lahore when a suicide bomber targeted police at a protest demonstration on February 13
In response, Pakistan’s military announced it was launching a new operation – dubbed Radd-al-Fasaad, or Elimination of Mischief/Chaos – across the country, to cement the gains made against the Pakistani Taliban during a previous three-year operation launched in 2014.
By Asad Hashim
(Additional reporting by Alia Chughtai in Karachi)