Islamabad: Eighteen policemen and a civilian were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself near the Lal Masjid on Sunday where a huge rally was being held to mark the first anniversary of storming of the radical mosque by Pakistani commandos.
In the latest apparent revenge attack, the powerful blast, heard several kilometres away, occurred as thousands of Islamic hardliners demanding public hanging of President Pervez Musharraf at the rally were dispersing at about 7.50 pm (localtime).
Rehman Malik, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Interior Affairs, visited the blast site and told reporters that a suicide bomber carried out the attack.
Senior police official Rao Mohammed Iqbal said 18 policemen and a civilian were killed in the attack.
Officials in various hospitals said over 40 people were injured, some of them seriously. Interior Secretary Kamal Shah said the policemen were the target of the attack.
The suicide bomber had blown himself up near a picket that was part of the outer cordon of the security
arrangements, officials said.
Witnesses said the explosion occurred in the vicinity of Aabpara police station and Melody Market, which are at a short distance from the mosque.
TV channels aired footage of the bodies of several policemen lying at the site.
The suicide bomber, aged about 30 years and wearing a white salwar-kameez, approached the picket on foot and blew himself up when he was challenged by policemen, witnesses said. The head of the suicide bomber has been found, said Information Minister Sherry Rehaman. Witnesses said parts of the bomber's body were hurled up to 50 yards away by the blast.