Pakistani forces on Monday launched a crackdown on Islamist extremists in the central province of Punjab as part of the hunt for those responsible for the deadly Taliban attack on Christians celebrating Easter, officials said.

Several raids were conducted and a number of suspects were arrested across major cities in the country's most populous province, army spokesman General Asim Bajwa said.

On Sunday evening a suicide bomber detonated an explosive vest among a crowd inside a public park in the eastern city of Lahore, killing 72 people, local official Mohamed Usman said.

Around 350 people were injured, said Deeba Shahnaz Akhtar, a spokeswoman for the rescue services. It was the deadliest attack in Pakistan this year.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying members of the Christian community were their target.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday visited injured people being treated at a hospital, his office said.

He ordered law enforcement agencies to speed up the offensive against the Islamist militants, who are linked with the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

“I want more proactive coordination between law enforcement and intelligence agencies,” he said at a meeting. “The terrorists have assassinated our children - sons and daughters - and God willing, we will wipe them out from this country.”

Army chief Raheel Sharif said overnight the military would step up an offensive against the Islamist militants.

The Pakistan army has been engaged in fierce air and ground operations against the Taliban in the country’s north-western tribal frontiers on the Afghan border since June 2014.

More than 3,500 of the militants have so far been killed in the months of campaign, according to the military, but their ability to launch massive attacks seems intact.

Security analysts said the militants were now choosing “soft, easy-to-hit” targets, which shows their declining strength.

“This is clearly desperation. ... They want to show their presence by bombing public places,” said analyst Mahmoud Shah, a former military brigadier.

Markets were shut and traffic was thin on the roads across the province. National flags was flying at half-mast as a three-day official state of mourning for the victims began Monday.

Funerals for some of the victims were held and more were scheduled for Tuesday.

At least 35 children were among the dead, local police official Nasrullah Chatha said. Some 15 members of the Christian community died in the blast.

Related stories

Latest news

Syrian opposition rules out future role for President al-Assad

The Syrian opposition said Friday it would not accept any role for President Bashar al-Assad in the future of the war-torn country, reacting to a recent US shift saying that removing al-Assad is no longer a priority for Washington.

Russian Army integrates breakaway forces of Georgian province

Parts of the small fighting forces of the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia have been placed under Russian military control, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday.

Czech Republic's Pilsner Urquell beer is now Japanese

Japanese brewing company Asahi completed its takeover of the Czech brewery Pilsner Urquell on Friday, Asahi said in a statement.

Judge approves 25-million-dollar settlement of Trump University case

A US district judge on Friday approved a 25-million-dollar settlement of lawsuits and state fraud allegations against Trump University, the US president's now-defunct business venture.

Former Thai premier Thaksin to junta on reconciliation: 'Cut me out'

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Friday announced that he is not interested in the junta-led reconciliation process, three days after the junta handed him a half-a-billion-dollar tax bill for his past business deal.

Dalic: We welcome possible deal between Agrokor and banks

The government welcomes the possibility of an agreement being concluded between the Agrokor food company and creditor banks, and the bill on vitally important companies is not a fallback plan but the result of the government's care for the overall economic and financial stability of Croatia, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Martina Dalic told a press conference in Zagreb on Friday.

Croatia, China sign action plan for cooperation in agriculture

The Croatian and Chinese ministries of agriculture on Friday signed an action plan for cooperation in the field of agriculture for the period 2017-2018, the Croatian ministry said in a statement.

ZSE indices up, Agrokor shares in focus of investor interest

The Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) indices on Friday rose by more than 1.8%, with stocks of the Agrokor food and retail concern being in the focus of investor interest again.

Berlin police defend handling of Berlin market attacker

Berlin police defended themselves on Friday against accusations that they stopped surveillance on Berlin Christmas market attacker despite knowing in June 2016 he was dangerous.

Croatia, creditors tailor emergency measures to save tottering giant

Croatia's tottering retail and food giant Agrokor reached an agreement with its creditors, putting its debts standby and allowing it to continue working during emergency restructuring, the Croatian branch of Austria's Erste Bank said Friday.

Agrokor's creditors say standstill agreement to go into force today

A standstill agreement regarding the Agrokor concern's existing financial obligations to banks will take effect on Friday, additional capital will be injected into the concern in the coming days and the concern will be actively restructured, which includes a change of its management, it was said on Friday after a meeting between Agrokor's suppliers and creditor banks.

Palestinians, UN slam Israel's new settlement plan

Palestinians, Israeli activists and the UN lambasted the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, a day after it gave the go-ahead for the first new West Bank settlement in a quarter of a century.

South Sudan rebels release three abducted foreign oil workers

South Sudanese rebels have released three foreign engineers they abducted in early March in the oil-rich Upper Nile region, Foreign Affairs Ministry official Mawein Makol Arik said on Friday.

Turkish opposition: Imprisoned party chief has gone on hunger strike

The head of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party has launched a hunger strike from prison.

European leagues threaten Champions League schedule clashes

The European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) on Friday threatened schedule clashes on Champions League matchdays in an ongoing dispute with the governing body UEFA.

Danish court revokes citizenship of IS volunteer

A Danish appellate court on Friday stripped a man of his Danish citizenship for volunteering to fight for the extremist Islamic State in Syria.

Banks and Agrokor agree on key elements of standstill agreement

Member banks of the coordinating committee of financial creditors and representatives of the Agrokor food company have in principle agreed on key elements of a standstill agreement, which is expected to be signed later today, announcing changes in the company's management team, Erste Bank said in a statement on Friday afternoon.

Syrian man on trial in Sweden; mosque attack labelled terrorism

A Syrian man went on trial Friday in the southern Swedish city of Malmo, charged with terrorism and arson after an attack last year on a building used as an assembly hall by Shiite Muslims.