LAHORE - Four soldiers of Pakistan Army and an off-duty officer of Pakistan Air Force were among six men who died in a suicide blast on Lahore’s Bedian Road early Wednesday.

At least 18 persons, including nine military personnel, were admitted to hospitals with multiple injuries following the suicide blast, the second in Lahore since February. The death toll could rise as condition of three of the wounded was reported to be critical.

Over one and a half dozen army personnel were going to join census duties in a private van when the blast took place at Manawala bus stop near Bhatta Chowk.

Reportedly, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan accepted responsibility for the attack. In a statement TTP said it had carried out the attack in revenge on security forces.

An eyewitness said the bomber, said to be in his early 20s, approached security men when they were getting off the van. The blast was so powerful that it badly damaged the van. “I was going to appear in a practical exam with my father in a car when the blast happened. My father was also wounded seriously,” a teenage boy told reporters at a hospital bed.

Another teenage boy said he was waiting for transport at the bus stop when a powerful blast knocked him down. “I fell on the ground and lost consciousness,” said Abid who was admitted to Lahore General Hospital with bleeding ears.

A number of fruit and vegetable vendors were busy in their business when the blast occurred in the busy locality. Bedian Road is used by many commuters to reach DHA’s upscale Phase-V neighbourhood.

Police investigators said they believe the attacker and his facilitator, both not identified yet, were chasing the white-colour van on a motorcycle. The handler fled instantly after dropping the bomber at a bus stop as security personnel arrived there in a private van.

Wednesday’s blast comes barely two months after the suicide attack on The Mall that killed 14 people, including six police officers.

Punjab’s Counter-Terrorism Department last night said, “It was a suicide blast.” The CTD spokesperson said six men, including four army personnel, died in the blast. “The attacker who got down from motorcycle blew himself up near the army personnel, resulting in six deaths and 18 injuries,” the spokesman said.

Five men, including three army personnel, died on the spot while another security officer succumbed to wounds at a hospital hours later. Nine military personnel were admitted to Lahore’s Combined Military Hospital with multiple injuries.

The martyred military personnel were identified as Havaldar Riaz, Lance Naik Irshad, Sepoy Muhammad Sajid and Sepoy Abdur Rehman. Another two victims named by police as Muhammad Boota and Awais were said to be local residents.

A serving officer of Pakistan Air Force, Awais, riding in a car along with his wife Tehmina, was going home when the blast took place close to their vehicle. Awais who was enjoying leave with his family died instantly while his wife was admitted to Lahore’s PAF hospital with serious injuries.

The funeral prayers for the martyred servicemen were held at Ayyub Stadium Wednesday evening. Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Governor Rafique Rajwana, Lahore Corps Commander Lt-Gen Sadiq Ali, top police officers and a large number of military officers attended the funeral prayers.

Corps Commander Lt-Gen Sadiq Ali visited the hospitals to enquire after the wounded. On this occasion, he vowed the attackers behind the Bedian Road incident would not go unpunished. “The indiscriminate operation against terrorists will continue,” a private TV channel quoted the commander as saying during his visit to the Lahore CMH.

Forensic experts, police investigators and intelligence operatives rushed to the blast site soon after the incident. They were seen collecting evidences from the crime scene.

Police and security forces launched a crackdown in the locality soon after the blast and arrested four terror suspects. The van driver, Usman, who was also injured in the blast, is said to be among the suspects detained after the attack.

An official of the bomb disposal squad told this reporter that that at least 10-kg explosive was used in the blast. He said they also recovered ball bearings from the crime scene. The head of the bomber was recovered some 30 feet away from the place where he detonated his vest, police investigators said.

A criminal case under Anti-Terrorism Act was registered with Lahore’s CTD police station on the complaint of the station house officer.

According to the FIR, the SHO was on routine monitoring duty when he saw a white van stopping near Manawala stop on Bedian Road near Bhatta Chowk. “The van was carrying army personnel on census duty. The SHO then saw two persons on a motorcycle stopping one of whom disembarked while the other sped away. The attacker who alighted from the motorcycle blasted himself near the army personnel resulting in six deaths and 18 injuries.

A joint investigation team, comprising CTD police, security and intelligence officers, has launched investigations to unearth those who masterminded or facilitated the terror attack.

A Punjab police spokesman said security was intensified across the province in the wake of Lahore blast. He said field officers were directed to remain on their toes and ensure best security around worship places, key government installations and educational institutions, particularly those with co-education.

The top government officials, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, President Mamnoon Hussain, Punjab CM Shehbaz Sharif and Punjab Governor Rafique Rajwana strongly condemned the attack.

Lahore was already placed under high alert. Security agencies had also warned the provincial government of the possible suicide attack two weeks ago. The photo of an alleged bomber was also displayed in the police stations of the provincial metropolis and people were requested to inform the police if they saw Irfan, the man in picture.

white van stopping near Manawala stop on Bedian Road near Bhatta Chowk. “The van was carrying army personnel on census duty. The SHO then saw two persons on a motorcycle stopping one of whom disembarked while the other sped away. The attacker who alighted from the motorcycle blasted himself near the army personnel resulting in six deaths and 18 injuries.