RAWALPINDI, Nov 22: The Muharram procession which was attacked by a suicide bomber on Wednesday night in Dhoke Syedan was categorised as category ‘C’ or a low threat perception by the Rawalpindi police, based on attendance numbers and the local sectarian tensions.
Whether or not the level of threat from Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan or other militant groups was considered in making this assessment is unclear.
The attacked procession was seen as less vulnerable to terrorist attacks due to its relatively thin attendance and the absence of a local sectarian threat.
According to security sources, as many as 182 majalis and 51 Muharram processions were held in Rawalpindi district on Wednesday.
Superintendent of Police Potohor Division Hasseb Hussain Shah who was supervising the security for the Muharram processions and majalis held in the Cantonment area last night, revealed that processions and majalis had been categorised into A, B and C.
The processions falling into category A were taken out in sensitive areas where there was a threat of sectarian violence. This threat is based on the history of past events and local tensions in the area.
For instance, Dehri Hassanabad and Girja Road have been categorised as A for this year because of the clashes between local Shia and Sunni groups in these areas in previous years during Muharram. This is why the police and local administration had sought the assistance of Rangers and the military to ensure the security for processions taken out in Dehri Hassanabad and Girja Road on the 9th and 10th of Muharram.
However, the absence of a past history and the low attendance at Ghulam Haider Shah’s procession ensured that it was given a ‘C’ category.
Shah is a local resident who organises a procession every year on Muharram.
The processions and majalis placed in category ‘B’ enjoy lower attendance than the ‘A’ level processions and were taken out in areas where there was no sectarian threat.
Despite the attack the police continue to claim that security measures had been taken for the procession’s protection and that the attack could be put down to the “the bad luck of the police”.
Ninety minutes before the procession was to leave a team of Special Branch of Police had completed a “search and sweep” of the venue and route of the overnight procession of Muharram. It then handed the security over to the district police with a security clearance certificate.
However, there was no walk-through gate to detect weapons; no other security gadget was provided either to the guards.
Of the 51 processions, two were taken out in “Cantonment Circle”; a “circle” comes under one superintendent. The one on Kiani Road Azizabad began at 7:30pm and was to finish at 11pm.
The second, which was organised by Shah, was to finish at Qasr-i-Shabir at 11pm. However, it was delayed and around 11:30pm it was attacked.
The police sources said everyone entering the procession was thoroughly checked by the security guards and volunteers, even the suicide bomber who, the police claim, was a teenager. This is why he blew himself up as he was being searched.
Officials claimed that had the alleged bomber joined the procession the casualties could have been more.
According to the initial assessments, the bomber was carrying 3kg of high intensity explosives and that he was carrying hand grenades - one was found later.
The police are also claiming that the bomber seemed to be from the Tribal Areas.
When City Police Officer (CPO) Azhar Hameed Khokhar was contacted he said that the “head” of the suspected suicide bomber was found from the scene of blast which will be restructured for identification.
Meanwhile, a joint investigation team comprised on superintendent of police SP counter terrorism department, SP CIA, special branch and police officials would investigate the attack.
An FIR of the attack was registered with the police under anti-terrorism act and other relevant sections of the law against unidentified culprits on the complaint of Race Course police station inspector Muhammad Jamil.