• Two senior officers among six policemen dead
• Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claims responsibility
• Blast occurs near a protest camp
LAHORE: A suicide blast claimed by a Taliban faction ripped through the camp of protesting chemists in front of the Punjab Assembly on Monday evening, leaving 13 people dead and 70 others wounded.
Senior police officers were trying to convince the chemists to call off the protest when the bomber, who apparently had mingled with the protesters, stepped forward to get close to the negotiators and blew himself up. The protest on The Mall was being held against recent amendments to the Drug Act which the chemists called a ‘black law’.
Lahore Traffic DIG retired Captain Syed Amad Mobin, SSP Zahid Gondal (acting DIG operations) and four other personnel were killed along with seven civilians. It was arguably the first suicide attack in Lahore to have claimed lives of two senior police officers.
The powerful explosion — responsibility for which was claimed by the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction of the banned Pakistan Tehreek-i-Taliban — threw people to the ground and panicked people were seen running for cover.
Witnesses said that the site was littered with limbs and blood spattered all around.
The explosion was so powerful that windowpanes of many vehicles and nearby buildings were shattered. Two cars parked near the Punjab Assembly building caught fire. Some motorbikes and vehicles were destroyed.
Zeshan, one of the injured, said he fell unconscious because of the impact of the blast. “I could hear cries of wounded people lying around me.”
Reflecting the poor state of the government-run services to respond to in such situations, Zeshan said that no-one came to rescue him and he dragged himself to an ambulance.
“We just couldn’t understand what happened,” Tufail Nabi, one of the injured, told a private news TV channel. “It was as if some big building collapsed,” he said, as he limped away.
The last time Lahore was rocked by a terrorist attack happened 11 months ago when a huge suicide bombing in the city’s Gulshan Iqbal Park left scores dead.
Talking to Dawn, Capital City Police Officer retired Captain Amin Wains said it appeared that the suicide bomber was a young man.
Lahore Counter-Terrorism Department head SP Muhammad Iqbal said the bomber apparently wanted to target the senior police officers.
Police said the bomb weighed between six and eight kilograms. They quoted witnesses as saying that the suicide bomber was about 20 years of age.
Some witnesses and doctors at the state-run hospitals told Dawn that the death toll might increase as about 20 of the injured were in critical condition.
Shortly after the incident, Rangers and other law enforcement personnel cordoned off the entire vicinity amid fears of a second blast.
Rescue 1122 ambulances shifted the injured to hospitals. An emergency was declared in all government-run hospitals in the city.
Cameraman of the Daily Khabrain, Sajjad Mughal, who was there to cover the protest, told reporters that the bomber walked to the place where officers were holding talks with the demonstrators and blew himself up. He said that more than 200 people were present there when the blast took place.
“I saw a young man heading towards the gathering and in the next movement there was a big bang. I lost my senses for awhile. When I regained my senses, I saw people lying in a pool of blood,” Mr Mughal said.
Rescue 1122 spokesman Jam Sajjad said the ambulances shifted 69 injured to nearby hospitals — 32 to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, 22 to Mayo Hospital and two to Lahore General Hospital. He confirmed 10 deaths.
The Lahore deputy commissioner said that at least 11 casualties had been confirmed.
Mayo Hospital chief executive Prof Dr Asad Aslam said they had received two bodies, including that of SSP Gondal. He said three of the injured were in critical condition.
Three of the deceased policemen were identified as ASI Amin, Elite Fore constables Irfan Mahmood and Mohammad Aslam.
Published in Dawn February 14th, 2017