LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) -- A Taliban suicide bomber detonated his explosives near a vehicle carrying census workers in eastern Pakistan on Wednesday, killing six people — two data collectors and four soldiers who were escorting them, a government spokesman and police said.
The attack took place on the outskirts of Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, said Malik Ahmad Khan, the provincial government spokesman. The border with India is several kilometers (miles) away from the site of the explosion.
A local police official, Mohammad Afzal, said that along with the six killed, 15 people were wounded in the blast.
TV stations aired footage showing the census workers' badly destroyed vehicle. The blast was so powerful that it also damaged nearby shops.
Mohammad Khurasani, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the group sought to target Pakistan's "impure army" that he called a "slave of America." The militant group's chief, Mullah Fazlullah, who is believed to be hiding in Afghanistan, ordered the attack, the spokesman said.
Since Islamabad threw its support behind the United States in its war against terror in 2001, the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaida and other militant groups have killed thousands of people in a bid to overthrow the Pakistani government and install their own harsh interpretation of Islamic law.
Pakistan's military has carried out scores of operations, killing thousands of suspected militants.
Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, later paid tribute to the victims of attack.
He pledged the census will be completed at any cost and that the sacrifices by the troops and civilians would strengthen the country's resolve to fight terrorism.
Rana Sanaullah, a Cabinet member in the Punjab government, said attacks like Wednesday's are being planned and executed by militants from Afghanistan — an often repeated claim by Islamabad.
Kabul denies it is sheltering any militant groups but various extremist factions use the porous Afghan-Pakistan border for cross-border attacks and often find sanctuaries on the other side
Pakistan launched the national census last month, the country's first in 19 years. Khan said the census would continue despite the attack.
Tens of thousands of data collectors, supported by 200,000 Pakistani soldiers, go door-to-door for the project, which is to be finished by May 15. However, societal conservatism and a lack of women census takers could result in Pakistan's female population being under-represented.