Carnage at Wagah — 60 killed

November 03, 2014

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RELATIVES gather around bodies of victims in a hospital after the suicide bomb attack near the Wagah border on Sunday.—AFP
RELATIVES gather around bodies of victims in a hospital after the suicide bomb attack near the Wagah border on Sunday.—AFP

LAHORE: A devastating suicide attack at the entrance of the Wagah border parade venue on Sunday killed 60 people, including 10 women and seven children, and left more than 110 injured.

A young suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance of the parade complex soon after the completion of the flag-lowering ceremony, which is a daily feature at Wagah.

Three officers of the Punjab Rangers and seven members of a family were among the dead, in the explosion which was so loud that the bang was heard some 10 kilometres from the border.


Seven members of a family, three Rangers officers among dead


The dead bodies and a large number of the injured were taken to the nearby Ghurki Trust Hospital. The hospital later shifted the bodies to the Mayo Hospital and some of the critically injured to the Lahore General Hospital. Some 50 injured were taken to other hospitals of the city, where a medical emergency was declared.

“We received a total 111, including 50 bodies and 61 injured. Of the 61, we referred 16 critically injured to General Hospital, admitted 31 at our own hospital and discharged 14 after giving them first aid,” Dr Tayyab, a duty doctor at Ghurki Hospital, told Dawn.

Chaos and shock reigned at the site of the blast, and eyewitnesses said many people were injured in stampede following the attack. A majority of the dead were from Lahore but the casualty list included visitors from various parts of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi.

“I had come from Peshawar along with my family to witness the flag-lowering at Wagah,” Sadiqur Rehman, an injured man admitted to the Ghurki Hospital, told Dawn. “As soon as we came out from the parade area at the end of the ceremony, we were struck by the impact of the explosion. It was a huge blow which sent us to the ground.”

Rehman lost his wife in the explosion, while his son was injured.

The ceremony draws large crowds daily, but the numbers soar on weekends where, according to estimates by Rangers, up to 8,000 people are present to witness the flag-lowering.

Officials and witnesses said the damage could have been even greater if the attacker, said to be aged around 20, had managed to penetrate into the main ceremony area. He was stopped some 600 metres short, exploding the bomb when intercepted by the Rangers officials minding a checkpost, said witnesses and senior Rangers officials.

“When the bomber failed to enter the (ceremony) area, he blew himself up at the checkpoint, killing many, including three on-duty Rangers officials,” Director General of Punjab Rangers Maj Gen Tahir Javaid Khan told the media at a briefing on the spot. “The security was so tight that the bomber could not succeed in reaching his target.”

A GIRL mourns after victims of the explosion were brought to a hospital.—AFP
A GIRL mourns after victims of the explosion were brought to a hospital.—AFP

A Rangers official involved in ensuring the first-layer security at Wagah told Dawn that the authorities concerned were investigating as to how the bomber succeeded in reaching the third post near the parade area. “The bomber might have wanted to reach the parade area to blow himself up at the place where the troops from Pakistan and India take part in the flag-lowering ceremony in close proximity of each other,” he added.

Many of the officials Dawn approached for comment said that it was too early to attach any motive to the suicide attack. But as two militant organisations – Jundullah and Jamaatul Ahrar – took responsibility for the bombing one after the other, the choice of the target raised fresh fears about attempts to create greater friction between Pakistan and India.

Tensions between the two neighbours have increased in recent weeks amid a series of cross-border firing incidents. Islamabad has accused the Narendra Modi government of indulging in military adventurism, whereas New Delhi has maintained that it was Pakistan which was responsible for the escalation.

Some analysts in recent times have pointed out that militants are now trying to expand the theatre of war to include the entire South Asia. In recent months the news of the launching of an Al Qaeda chapter for South Asia has been viewed as part of the new militant strategy and some extremely grim scenarios were painted in the wake of the Sept 6 attack on Pakistan’s naval assets in Karachi, for which Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan had claimed responsibility.

Some sections of the media in India had then reported that the militants aimed to seize a Pakistani Navy ship and use it to target an Indian warship. The suicide bombing at Wagah on Sunday triggered a series of fresh theories, making some analysts wonder as to what dire consequences an explosion whose effects were felt on either side of the border could have led to.

According to Punjab Police Inspector General Mushtaq Sukhera, the suicide bomber detonated when intercepted by the Rangers personnel at the entrance of the border area complex. He told the media that blown-up parts of the suspected bomber were collected and sent for DNA and forensic tests. He said the suicide bomber was carrying explosive material weighing about five kilograms.

Security officials found some metal pieces on the site in their search for evidence after the blast. One of them said he suspected that some devices might also have been planted in the LPG cylinders in the nearby shops, which could have been denoted by remote control.

During the North Waziristan Agency operation, security forces had unearthed factories where explosive devices were fitted into LPG cylinders.

Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2014