Though no one claimed responsibility for the attack, which also wounded a reported 300 people, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said it was linked to the government’s offensive against Taliban fighters in the Swat valley in Pakistan’s retive northwest frontier province.
Violence between militants and the army have caused as many as 2.3 million refugees to flee the area, according to provincial government figures quoted by Reuters.
In the Lahore attack, gunmen fired at guards at the gates of the police office known as Rescue 15. Moments later, a car bomb exploded, damaging a government ambulance service building and an office of the military’s main intelligence agency.
“It is quite apparent that the ISI was the target,” said an intelligence official speaking anonymously to the New York Times.
The blast killed two officers and six lower level officials from Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence agency, a senior government official told Reuters.
“The moment the blast happened, everything went dark in front of my eyes. The way the blast happened, then gunfire, it looked as if there was a battle going on,” said Muhammad Ali, a bystander, as reported by the Telegraph.
The attack occurred on one of the cities busiest streets.
Military officials warned of violence in retaliation for the military’s Swat offensive and Wednesday’s attack on Lahore, the country’s second largest city, is the third in as many months in or near the city.
“I believe that anti-Pakistan elements, who want to destabilize our country and see defeat in Swat, have now turned to our cities,” Malik told reporters.
Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. central command in the region, was in Pakistan’s capitol Islamabad a day earlier for meetings with government and military leaders.
The Taliban signed a peace deal with the Pakistani government in February but the deal broke down after violence continued the Swat valley.
The military is optimistic about the progress in Swat, claiming soldiers are close to securing the main town of Mingora.
In the U.S., President Barack Obama and Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, have pushed to increase military aid to Pakistan.
“Foreign assistance is critical in that process, both for what it can do to help Pakistan overcome the brutal efforts of the Taliban and al-Qaida and other extremist groups, and for the good it will do for the region itself,” Holbrooke said in May.