ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addressing the nation at his office. —AFP ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif addressing the nation at his office. —AFP

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani authorities detained more than 5,000 suspects, then released most of them, in the two days since a suicide bomber hit a park in the eastern city of Lahore at Easter, killing at least 70 people, a provincial minister said yesterday.

Investigators were keeping 216 suspects in custody pending further investigation, said Rana Sanaullah, a state minister for Punjab province from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's ruling party. "After further investigation we will know more about them," he said. "...If someone is found to be guilty they will be charged." Details of the sweeping raids - aimed at anyone suspected of Islamist extremism - came as the Taleban faction claiming responsibility for the attack issued a new threat yesterday, singling out the media.

"Everyone will get their turn in this war, especially the slave Pakistani media," Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesman for Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, tweeted. "We are just waiting for the appropriate time." The Easter bombing was Pakistan's deadliest attack since a 2014 school massacre claimed by the Taleban killed 134 students. Sunday's attack, which included 29 children among the dead, showed the militants can still cause carnage despite military raids on their northwestern strongholds.

"Let Nawaz Sharif know that this war has now come to the threshold of his home," tweeted Ehsan. "The winners of this war will, God willing, be the righteous mujahideen." Lahore is the capital of Punjab, Pakistan's richest and most populous province and Sharif's political heartland. Sanaullah said at least 160 raids were carried out by a mixture of police, counter-terrorism and intelligence agents and confirmed that army and paramilitary forces would be used in

Future operations

"This operation will include all law enforcement agencies," Sanaullah said. Military and government officials on Monday said that the military was preparing to launch a new paramilitary counterterrorism crackdown in Punjab. The move, which has not yet been formally announced, represents the civilian government once again granting special powers to the military to fight Islamist militants.

Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, which also previously declared loyalty to Islamic State, has carried out five major attacks in Pakistan since December. In a televised address to the nation on Monday night, Sharif vowed to continue pursuing militants.

"I am here to renew a pledge that we are keeping count of every drop of blood of our martyrs. This account is being settled, and we will not rest till it is paid," Sharif said. The government also announced that Sharif would be cancelling a planned trip to the United States to attend the Nuclear Security Summit, due to begin on Thursday.

Pakistan's security agencies have long been accused of nurturing some Islamist militants to use for help in pursuing objectives in Afghanistan and against old rival India.

In recent years, Pakistan has cracked down on movements that target its own citizens and institutions, including the Pakistani Taleban who are fighting to topple the government and install a strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Taleban taunts

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his powerful military chief have both vowed to bring those behind the attack to justice. "Terrorists cannot dent our resolve. Our struggle will continue until the complete elimination of the menace of terrorism," the premier said Monday after visiting victims in the provincial capital, a stronghold of his ruling Pakistan Muslim League.

But yesterday Ehansullah Ehsan, spokesman for the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction, derided the prime minister on Twitter. "After the Lahore attack, Nawaz Sharif repeated old words to give himself false assurances," he wrote.

"Nawaz Sharif should know that war has reached his doorstep, and God willing the mujahideen will be the winners in this war." Kashir Nawab, a 32-year-old Christian from the Youhanabad district of Lahore, said a "pall of gloom" hung over the area as mourners visited the homes of those lost in the blast.

Nawab said he was working to help arrange funeral services. "Everybody is frightened and the Christians particularly feel unprotected," he said. The attack was the worst so far this year in a country grimly accustomed to atrocities, and will further fray inter-religious ties. Christians make up an estimated 1.6 percent of Pakistan's 200 million people and have long faced discrimination.

Twin suicide attacks against churches in Lahore killed 17 people in March last year, sparking two days of rioting by thousands of Christians. The country is still scarred by a Taleban assault on a Peshawar school in 2014 that killed 150 people, mostly children. A military operation targeting insurgents was stepped up in response. Last year the death toll from militant attacks was the lowest since the TTP umbrella grouping was formed in 2007. But analysts have warned the group is still able to carry out major attacks.-Agencies