LAHORE: A powerful explosion in the upscale DHA area on Thursday killed eight people and injured 35 others, five of them critically — only 10 days after a suicide bomb attack right in front of the Punjab Assembly had claimed 15 lives.
Thursday’s blast at an under-construction cafe in the Defence Housing Authority area’s Z Block killed its owner Moazam Paracha, who was also chief executive officer of telecom company Airlink.
The explosion, which was given a mysterious touch by an unending variety of explanations from police officers, partially damaged some nearby buildings. Some vehicles and motorbikes parked in the immediate surroundings were also damaged.
According to witnesses, the explosion was followed by a storm of dust and panic in the vicinity.
Eight dead, 35 injured in unclaimed blast; police unsure, saying it might not be a terror act
There were conflicting reports about the nature of the blast from the beginning. It was by turns termed a cylinder blast and a time bomb. Later in the day, some police officers returned to the original claim that it was a cylinder explosion. One officer said the material that exploded might have been stored in the building, as opposed to some individual terrorist or a network planting it there.
The explanations trying to convince the people that it was not a terrorist strike were not easy to accept given the run-up to the blast.
The Feb 13 blast outside the provincial assembly was followed by all kinds of rumours, and much more seriously, by alerts and reports of threats.
One of the alerts that enjoyed the seal of the Punjab home department was specifically about the presence of a threat in DHA and more specifically its posh markets. Police and DHA security officials had been directed to take stringent measures such as intensifying patrolling to prevent any terrorism attack in the wake of the threat alerts.
On the other hand, no organisation claimed responsibility for the blast, which appeared to support the police hesitancy to outright declare it a terror hit.
City police chief Amin Vains told Dawn that it was decided that a case would be registered with the local police, and not with the Counter-Terror Department (CTD) that works within the police force to exclusively deal with terrorism.
Overall the police’s role after the incident seemed somewhat restricted as Rangers took control of the entire area. The security elsewhere in the city was also beefed up.
There was also an apparent reluctance on the part of the officials on Thursday to in any way link this latest explosion to the spring cultural calendar of Lahore that includes many scheduled events, the most prominent among them the Pakistan Super League final that is planned to be held at the Gaddafi Stadium on March 5.
The area where the blast occurred had several commercial offices, banks and eateries.
“I saw the blast throwing three men out of the second floor of the building,” Mohammad Haseeb, an injured, told Dawn.
He said he was some feet away from the site of the blast and as he looked around immediately after the bang he saw many people lying wounded on the floor. Just then a storey of the building caved in and there were people beneath the debris.
“Thank God it didn’t occur in the evening, the peak time when the market is thronged by large numbers, or it could have been devastating.”
Afzal, a security guard at a nearby shop, said he saw many people running in panic and some of them crying because of the severe wounds. “I fell down on the ground when something hit me in my arm and chest,” he said, adding that he saw his office building wavering and a man thrown 100 metres away by the powerful explosion.
Afzal estimated that up to 40 people might be working on the building at the time of the blast.
Cantonment Operations SP Rana Tahir Rehman told Dawn that eight people were killed and about 35 people injured in this first such incident of its kind in the posh locality of Lahore. “It would be premature to say anything about the nature of the blast,” he said.
A spokesperson for the CTD said that only an investigation would confirm what caused the blast but did not rule out an IED timer (a timed improvised explosive device) or a remote-controlled device.
Punjab Rangers spokesman Major Hammad told Dawn that the investigators suspected that it could be a bomb blast, but detailed investigation would determine the exact nature of the explosion.
He said that since the building was under construction, it might be possible that someone had dumped explosive material there. “Police have collected evidence from the scene and forensic report would reveal the real cause of explosion,” he added.
Quoting some eyewitnesses, the spokesman said that firing was also carried out at the scene before the explosion. However, element of gas cylinder blast could not be ignored, he added.
A police source said that there was a possibility that someone might have kept dynamite at the under-construction building that increased the impact of explosion.
Punjab Health Secretary Najam Shah said emergency had been declared in all government hospitals of the provincial capital.
Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2017