LAHORE: Terrorism revisited the provincial capital after a year on Sunday as a suicide bomber blew himself up in Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park, a recreation facility thronged by a large number of people on weekends, killing at least 70 people, including women and children, and injuring more than 300 others.
The powerful blast ripped through massively crowded area of the park adjacent to Gate 1 which houses swings, train and some other attractions for children. Witnesses said the crowd included a large number of Christian families celebrating Easter.
A majority of the dead and injured were children and women, according to the Rescue 1122 and police officials.
According to some TV channels, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Taliban, Punjab, claimed responsibility for the blast
In the aftermath of one of the most devastating bomb attacks in Lahore’s history, some police officials looked for the causes in incidents immediately preceding the explosion. A police officer, who did not want to be quoted by name, did not rule out a foreign connection. He cited the case of the capture recently in Balochistan of an alleged RAW agent as well as the last week’s visit to the country by the Iranian president.
According to some TV channels, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Taliban, Punjab, claimed responsibility for the blast.
IDENTITY CARD: An identity card police found from the site of the blast may be of the alleged suicide bomber.
DIG operations Dr Haider Ashraf said that according to initial inquiry, Yousuf, a young man from Muzaffargarh, might be the bomber.
He said four friends of Yousuf had been detained by Muzaffargarh police from Basti Sohrani for questioning.
The Punjab government declared an emergency in Lahore and in all state-run hospitals directing the health authorities to recall doctors keeping in view the scale of casualties and injuries.
The incident raised a big question mark over the ‘security measures’ especially in the wake of terror threats.
Witnesses said the blast was so massive and fatal that there were pools of blood and scattered body parts in the park. The injured were seen crying for help and women running to find their children.
Rabia, a panic-stricken woman, was also among the victims who brought tears to many present there when she screamed in trembling voice that her two kids had died and third is missing.
A Rescue 1122 official said that initially 56 children were rushed to nearby hospitals for treatment.
Talking about the magnitude of the blast, Shujah Ahmad, a witness, said that the massive explosion sparked widespread panic when over 30 children and women were seen lying in a pool of blood near the parking site.
He said some of the children sustained head injuries and bone fractures when a merry-go-round swing collapsed after the bomber struck the crowd.
Seeing the number of blast victims alarmingly high, people from the area and visitors also reached there and started shifting the injured to hospital in their vehicles, cabs and rickshaws.
Many of the critically wounded were referred to other government hospitals because of shortage of space at the nearby health facilities. Of the total 340 injured, 125 were shifted to the Jinnah Hospital, 48 Shaikh Zayed Hospital, 41 Services Hospital, 53 Lahore General Hospital and 20 to the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.
The death toll may rise as most of the injured were said to be in serious condition at state-run hospitals.
Lahore CCPO retired Capt Amin Wains put the death toll at 60 and over 150 injured.
Talking to Dawn, he said that it was a suicide blast and the terrorist had blown himself up at the crowded point of the park.
Quoting initial police inquiries, he said the park was pathetically managed by the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) as its boundary walls – only four to five feet in height – were easily scalable.
He said the PHA management was responsible for frisking the visitors and 40 private guards were manning the recreational facility spanning over 2.5 km area for security.
To a question, he ruled out security lapse on the part of police and said two mobile squads had been stationed at the main gate of the park.
Operations DIG Dr Haider Ashraf said that at least 15 to 20 kg explosive material had been used by the suicide bomber. He said that police found the ‘skull’ of the suspect from the blast site and sent it for forensic analysis.
To a question about the motive behind the terrorism, he said it would be premature to say anything at this stage. “However, the terrorist hit a very soft target of women and children,” he said.
As many as 22 Rescue 1122 ambulances rushed to the site and shifted the injured to nearby hospitals, mainly Jinnah Hospital and the Shaikh Zayed Hospital, a spokesman told Dawn.
The government declared an emergency in all government hospitals because of the magnitude of casualties.
A witness, who was running a stall near the blast site, told reporters that a suspect aged between 20 and 30 was seen roaming in the park. He said one of the security guards of the Park had questioned him for his presence and then left him unattended.
Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2016