LAHORE: Fifteen people, a woman and a policeman among them, were killed and 85 others suffered injuries after two bombers blew themselves up outside two churches here on Sunday.
A large number of Christians, including women and children, were offering Sunday prayers inside the Catholic and Christ churches situated about 100 metres away from each other in the city’s Yohannaabad locality along Ferozepur Road at the time of the attack, witnesses and police said.
Soon after the incident, members of the Christian community launched protests. The protesters soon turned violent and an angry mob grabbed two unidentified people who what the protesters claimed were the associates of the suicide bombers and started thrashing them. They burned them alive in the presence of police.
Among the injured were three policemen and a number of passersby.
City police authorities suspended the Nishtar Colony’s station house officer for what was described as his poor performance and claimed that police had been deployed at all churches across the city on Sunday. According to them, the bombers failed to enter the churches because of police presence.
The provincial home minister told reporters that his department had no prior information about the possibility of any attack.
The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s Jamaatul Ahrar faction reportedly claimed responsibility for the attacks, but police did not acknowledge the claim.
The charged protesters, most of them youngsters, blocked the main Ferozepur Road by setting tyres on fire, suspended the Metro Bus operations, damaged Yohannaabad metro bus station and several private vehicles, including ambulances and media vans, and motorcycles by using clubs, sticks and stones.
The protesters also blocked the Kasur-bound road at different points, attacked motorists and manhandled several road users. A couple of drivers suffered injuries.
Broken windowpanes, blood and shoes were scattered across the blast sites.
Anti-riot police led by senior officers and equipped with anti-riot equipment did not stop the mob from attacking public and private property.
Traffic operations between Lahore and Kasur remained suspended for several hours. The trading activity along both sides of Ferozepur Road came to a halt as shopkeepers pulled down shutters.
Small groups of protesters held multiple demonstrations in front of police officers and anti-riot police and raised slogans against the prime minister, the chief minister and the government. They manhandled Senator Kamran Michael and did not allow him to visit the crime scenes.
“I just left my home for office when suddenly three to four gunmen opened fire outside the Christ Church and blasts took place in quick succession,” said Nasir Hameed, a witness. He claimed having seen two to three gunmen firing before the blast. The firing triggered panic among people gathered outside the church.
The situation was later brought under control and the protesters dispersed after provincial minister Khalil Tahir Sindhu and the Archbishop of Lahore intervened to end several hours of deadlock between protesters and police.
Deputy Inspector General of Police (Operations) Dr Haider Ashraf told Dawn that the blasts had taken place at around 11:15am and it appeared that the suicide bombers had been stopped by security guards and policemen deployed at the churches.
He said the deceased and the injured had also received bullet wounds. The impact of the blasts was severe because of the narrow streets around the churches.
He confirmed that the protesters had grabbed two suspects considering them to be accomplices of terrorists and burned them to death. He said the blasts led to a serious law and order situation and a series of protests by hundreds of people.
Mr Ashraf said forensic experts had found heads, legs and other parts of the bodies of the bombers. The bodies of the burned ‘civilians’ had been sent to the Punjab Forensic Science Laboratory for identification, he said.
Senior Superintendent of Police (Investigation) Rana Ayyaz Saleem told Dawn that the firing and blasts had occurred simultaneously.
He said up to 10kg of explosives were used in the blasts. Police collected evidence, including limbs of the bombers, despite severe resistance by protesters.
The SSP said a finger of both bombers would be sent to Nadra for their identification. Two pistols, which might have been used by terrorists, have been recovered from the crime scene.
He said the mob damaged a few vehicles and portions of the metro bus station. A case of lynching would be registered on behalf of the state, he added.
He said investigators were trying to establish whether the same group had attacked Qilla Gujjar Singh police lines.
Meanwhile, police registered two cases on a complaint of church managements.
The chief minister announced Rs500,000 compensation to be paid to the heirs of each deceased and Rs75,000 for each injured.
The deceased were identified as Abhishak, 8, Ambreen (a nurse at Lahore General Hospital), her husband Obaid, Musa, 15, Zahid Yousaf, Nadeem, 50, Akasah, 28, Shaikh Sadiq, Shaikh Ramzan, Mukhtar, Abdul Majeed, Illyas Bhatti, Mohammad Irshad and an unidentified man, besides constable Rashid Minhas.
Published in Dawn March 16th , 2015