- Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claims responsibility for attack
- Dead include DIG Traffic Ahmed Mobin, SSP Operations Zahid Gondal
- Punjab govt announces one-day mourning, national flag to fly at half-mast
At least 14 people, including DIG Traffic Ahmed Mobeen, were killed and over 100 wounded in a deadly suicide bombing outside the Punjab Assembly in Lahore on Monday, policemen and rescuers said.
The bomber, who came on a motorbike, detonated his suicide vest next to a DSNG van at Charing Cross on Lahore’s Mall Road at around 6:10 pm targeting the site of a protest, where negotiations were going on between protesting pharmacists and DIG Traffic Lahore Capt (r) Ahmad Mobin, police officials said.
Among the other dead were SSP Operations Zahid Gondal and two traffic wardens.
JAMAAT-UL-AHRAR CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY
A spokesperson for Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a breakaway faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed the responsibility for the attack on social media. The group had also claimed the responsibility for an Easter Day bombing in Lahore last year that killed more than 70 people in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park.
The outfit, in its post on social media, stated a member of theirs, Nasrullah alias Zabihullah, had perpetrated the crime. The statement read that the attack was one of the initial actions in the upcoming Operation Ghazi that they had earlier claimed they would be starting in the country.
They warned officials of “Pakistan’s infidel institutions” that they would be targeted. The operation is named after Maulana Abdul Ghazi, who was killed in the Lal Masjid Operation of 2007.
IG Mushtaq Sukhera, who visited the blast site, confirmed it was a suicide bombing. Sukhera told reporters that the suicide attacker blew himself up when the DIG Traffic’s gunman tried to stop him from advancing.
“The bomber came on a motorbike and detonated his suicide vest (while the protesting pharmacists were dancing after their successful negotiations with the DIG Traffic),” said Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Ameen Wains, adding that the martyred police officials had succeeded in convincing the demonstrators to call off their protest and disperse peacefully.
“We came along with the SSP (Operations). He directed us to stay near the police vans while he himself walked to the other side the road, where DIG Mubin was already negotiating with the protestors. The time SSP Zahid Sahib approached them, there was a huge explosion,” said a sub-inspector Pakistan Today talked to.
NACTA’S THREAT ALERT
Although security on Mall Road had been heightened in view of the protest of the Punjab Medical Stores’ Association and the Chemists and Druggists’ Association against the new drug act, the provincial metropolis had been on the list of an unidentified terrorist group according to an intelligence report released by the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) on February 7.
Immediately after the blast, rescue officials reached the crime spot – where a significant number of law enforcers had already been present due to the protest – and ferried the injured to Sir Ganga Ram and Mayo hospitals, where the condition of more than 20 injured was stated to be critical. An emergency was declared in all hospitals across Lahore in view of the huge number of wounded.
TWO SUSPECTS ARRESTED
Two suspects were arrested from the blast site after contingents of army and Rangers were called in and a security cordon was thrown around Charing Cross. The inner cordon was taken over by army personnel, while the outer one by the paramilitary Rangers and police.
Interestingly, one of the arrested men stated that he was an actor and had worked with a prominent film director Syed Noor. But, police arrested him and later transported him to an undisclosed location.
The explosion was so powerful that it rocked the entire area and was heard even five kilometres away. The windowpanes of nearby buildings were shattered and the DSNG van of AAJ TV, the bomber had struck close to, completely wrecked. Two more DSNG vans were partially damaged. AAJ TV cameraman Abdur Rehman was injured.
An eyewitness told this scribe that he saw a person coming on a bike and running towards the police officials who were busy in negotiating with the protestors. “Protestors were cheering, singing and dancing as if their demands were met,” he said, adding the protesters were about to disperse when the bomber struck.
Another witness said that after the bombing, participants of the protest were dispersed, fearing another blast.
Meanwhile, the Punjab government has announced one-day mourning in respect of the victims of yesterday’s bombing. The national flag will also fly at half-mast. The Punjab government has already imposed Section-144 in Lahore.
PM, COAS CONDEMN BOMBING
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the attacks would not weaken Pakistan’s resolve in fight against militancy.
“We have fought this fight against the terrorists among us, and will continue to fight it until we liberate our people of this cancer, and avenge those who have laid down their lives for us,” the premier said in a statement.
He directed the Punjab government to provide all possible assistance to the injured.
Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa also condemned the blast, and ordered the security forces and secret agencies to cooperate with Lahore Police.
DG Punjab Rangers Major General Naveed Azhar also visited the blast site.
Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif also condemned the bomb blast, and ordered to ramp up security in Punjab in a hurriedly-called meeting with senior police officials.