LAHORE: At least five people, including two policemen, were killed and 31 others injured in a powerful bomb blast outside the main gate of police lines here on Tuesday. Police claimed that a suicide bomber had carried out the attack.
The injured included five women and two children.
The bomber blew himself up outside a small hotel and a building adjacent to the main gate of Qila Gujjar Singh Police Lines on Empress Road. A senior police officer and hundreds of serving policemen and candidates appearing in multiple interviews for jobs were present inside the establishment.
The blast, which took place at 12.36pm and caused a fire, left 25 motorcycles and 13 other vehicles damaged and windowpanes of a few nearby buildings shattered, witnesses and police said.
Police claimed the target of the bomber was police officers and the police establishment as Lahore police had been receiving threat alerts.
Jamaatul Ahrar, a splinter group of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack.
But police rejected the claim.
The incident eventually pushed the police to force closure of businesses, shops and offices in the area. It was done despite a massive three-layer security deployment on Empress Road as the bomber got very close to the main gate without any search and was not spotted by officials for some time before he exploded himself.
Punjab Inspector General Mushtaq Sukhera told journalists that the target of the attacker was police lines, but he apparently blew himself up prematurely.
Jamaatul Ahrar, a splinter group of banned TTP, claims responsibility for bomb blast
It might have been a reaction to the Zarb-i-Azb military operation against militants, he said, adding that police would examine CCTV footage to get more details about the attacker.
Senior Superintendent of Police Rana Ayyaz Saleem told Dawn that the bomber, who was wearing jeans, was apparently waiting for right time to strike, but exploded himself ‘prematurely’ when a couple of police officers present at the hotel spotted him.
He said the suspect’s prime objective was apparently to target a gathering of policemen present outside the police lines or a vehicle entering or leaving the police establishment, adding that adequate security measures did not allow the suspect to enter the premises.
The SSP said the officials who challenged the suspect and died were identified as Sub-Inspector Rana Yousaf of Sheikhupura and Head Constable Amjad Abbas. Two of the three dead civilians were identified as Mohammad Abbas and Waqar Ahmad.
The SSP said police had found different parts of the bomber’s body from the scene, adding that initial findings suggested at least eight kilograms of explosives containing ball-bearings had been used in the blast.
Forensic experts from Lahore police and the Punjab Forensic Science Agency collected evidence from the scene.
Deputy Inspector General Dr Haider Ashraf told Dawn that he was about to leave the police lines after attending a meeting on Rescue 15 expansion when the incident took place. He said the suspect wanted to target senior police officers and the key police establishment. Around 3,000 policemen are usually present round the clock in the building.
About 3,000 civilian candidates were there for interviews.
The DIG said that someone had challenged the suspect and a police sniper also fired shots before he blew himself up.
A visit to the crime scene suggested that a few CCTV cameras installed by police captured the images of people and the blast, but footage did not help investigators in getting a clear picture of the suspect.
Candidates who appeared in the tests for electrician and other lower cadre posts and got stuck in the police lines were seen coming out of the main gate in queues at about 3.30pm.
Police cordoned off the area and diverted traffic to other arteries.
The injured were taken to five hospitals in the city.
The Punjab home minister, some other ministers and legislators and senior police officers visited the crime scene.
“The powerful explosion shook the entire locality and knocked me unconscious for a few moments. A fire accompanied by thick black smoke broke out after the explosion. Police fired gunshots in retaliation,” said Mukhtar Hussain, a witness.
A source at the Punjab Counter-Terrorism Department told Dawn that there was no specific threat for the police lines, but police establishment had a general terror threat. He said the only specific threat alert for Tuesday was for Allama Iqbal International Airport by the TTP.
Published in Dawn February 18th , 2015