ATTOCK: Punjab home minister Colonel (retd) Shuja Khanzada was killed in a suicide attack on his political office in Shadi Khan village, Attock, Sunday, along with 16 others.
Punjab Police Inspector General Mushtaq Sukhera inspected the blast site later in the day and confirmed that 14 people, including the Punjab home minister, died in the suicide blast.
At least 23 people were injured in the attack and are currently under treatment at different hospitals in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, said the Punjab police chief and prayed for the early recovery of the injured victims.
Three injured in critical condition later passed away at DHQ Hospital Rawalpindi, hospital sources confirmed, raising the death toll from the attack to 17. The driver of home minister Khanzada, Ghareeb Nawaz, was also among the dead.
“There were two suicide bombers, one stood outside the boundary wall and the second one went inside and stood in front of the minister,” Sukhera told reporters.
“The blast by the bomber standing outside ripped the wall which caused the roof to fall flat on the minister and people gathered there,” he said.
Sukhera added police were investigating whether the attacker inside the building detonated a bomb.
He said police could not rule out the involvement of banned sectarian militant outfits against whom the government had launched a crackdown.
The impact of the explosion caused the roof of the building to collapse, and shattered windows in nearby houses.
Between 50-100 people were estimated to have been in attendance at a jirga being held at Khanzada’s political office. Many of them were buried underneath the wreckage as the entire structure had been razed to the ground by the explosion.
Deputy Superintendent of Police Hazro Syed Shoukat Shah was among the dead recovered from the site. Ten other policemen were present at the scene when the blast occurred.
Sources in the interior ministry claim that banned outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) has taken responsibility of the suicide attack on Khanzada. They alleged Khanzada was under threat following the killing of LeJ chief Malik Ishaq in July.
The Rawalpindi regional police officer confirmed the attack was a suicide blast.
Shuja Khanzada was given charge of the home department in October 2014 and had been actively involved in major operations against terror outfits. The provincial department he headed was responsible for the maintenance of law and order, and protection of life and property of citizens. He had previously held positions as Provincial Minister Punjab and Advisor to the Chief Minister Punjab.
Earlier this year, Khanzada had said the Punjab government received threat alerts for airports, prisons, schools and sensitive installations, besides targeted killing of known personalities and kidnap for ransom.
The minister had said all banned organisations had been stopped from operating, and lists of NGOs and seminaries working against “national interests”, as well as a person delivering provocative speeches, had also been prepared and action would be taken against them on “solid evidence”.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has condemned the terrorist attack. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan similarly condemned the incident and directed federal and provincial institutions to carry out immediate rescue activities.
Rescue operations are still underway at the scene of the attack.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan was grieved to learn of Shuja Khanzada's death. He said the home minister was one of the founding members of the PTI and had travelled with Khan 'in the early days, galvanising people'.
The PTI chief also said in a statement that his party as a gesture of respect will not field a candidate in the by-poll for the provincial assembly seat that fell vacant after Shuja Khanzada's assassination.
Director General Inter-Services Public Relations Asim Bajwa condemned the terrorist attack on the Punjab home minister, saying that Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif had ordered intelligence agencies to help find the perpetrators.
Bajwa went on to say the attack would not deter national resolve to eliminate the menace of terrorism, and lauded Khanzada as a bold officer.
Adviser to Sindh Chief Minister Sharmila Farooqi expressed heartfelt condolences towards those killed in the suicide bombing.
Maryam Nawaz Sharif said Khanzada's death was a loss to the country.
PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari condemned the Attock attack.
Governor Sindh Dr Ishratul Ebad condoled the death of Shuja Khanzada and others in the suicide attack.
The Punjab government has announced three days of mourning following Khanzada's death in a suicide attack. Flags on all government buildings will remain lowered during the three days.
Funeral prayers offered
The deceased home minister's funeral prayers were offered at Police Lines, Attock, along with slain DSP Hazro Syed Shoukat Shah.
The funeral was attended by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and other senior officials.
Khanzada will be laid to rest at his native village in Attock.