LAHORE: Police claimed on Friday that Thursday’s explosion in the Defence Housing Authority’s Z block, which killed 10 people and injured 35, had taken place after liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders kept in the basement of a building blew up.

Separately at a press conference, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah termed the tragic incident “an accident” and insisted that it was not an act of terror. He said that forensic evidence collected from the site had ruled out the possibility of a deliberate attack.

A senior police investigator said the Punjab Forensic Science Agency’s experts had not found traces of explosive material at the building.

Earlier, based on information gathered by the Bomb Disposal Squad, journalists were told at the site that explosives had been used in the blast. The investigator said they had later established that the samples collected from the site were fragments of LPG cylinders.

According to the official, nine LPG cylinders had been kept in the basement of the building, where Moazzam Paracha, a businessman who was killed in the explosion, and a senior police officer were planning to launch a restaurant in a few days. The venture was jointly owned by Mr Paracha and the police officer.

The officer’s wife, who was present at the site when it was rocked by the blast, is said to be in a critical condition at a private hospital.

The investigator said gas leakage had occurred before the explosion and some employees had informed Mr Paracha about it.

He said, “Paracha went to the basement [to check the gas leak] when suddenly the cylinders blew up and the roof of the ground floor caved in. At the time of the explosion, grinding work was under way on the ground floor which might have generated sufficient heat. The gas leak had turned the basement into a place waiting for an explosion.”

He said that there had been no specific threat to the multi-storey property and no high-profile personalities had visited that place.

This explanation, however, was met with scepticism as several people in the area questioned why the ‘cylinder explosion’ was not accompanied by a blaze, as is usually the case in such incidents.

Last month, LPG cylinders had exploded at a makeshift residence of workers employed for the Orange Train project in Mehmood Booti, causing the entire third floor to catch fire within minutes.

A senior rescue official told Dawn that they had not found any evidence of a fire in the restaurant building. He said it was possible that a high-grade explosive had been kept in the building as the blast was accompanied by shockwaves which had caused the roof to collapse.

Lahore General Hospital Medical Superintendent Ghulam Sabir told Dawn that they had treated the injured for burns, head injuries and wounds caused by shattered glass.

Asked if they had come across evidence of injuries caused by explosive material, he said even a post-mortem examination could not determine that injuries were caused by explosives.

Only forensic examination can determine it.

A witness, whose brother was killed in the explosion, has filed a statement with the Defence-A police, saying that his brother Asif Rasheed, the building’s contractor, was at the entrance of the building when he lit a match to light his cigarette. That is when the explosion occurred.

Interestingly, the police have recorded the statement under Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure without fixing responsibility, claiming that the explosion had occurred because of gross negligence.

Rana Sanaullah’s press conference

Defending the delay in determining the cause of the explosion, the law minister told reporters that they had waited for a forensic test of the samples collected from the site before issuing a statement.

He said those manufacturing substandard gas cylinders were responsible for the deaths and would be taken to task.

He said there were conflicting reports about the nature of the blast as some had claimed that an electricity generator had blown up while others had termed it a gas cylinder blast. The forensic tests had put the speculations to rest, he said.

Asked whether the Pakistan Super League’s final match would still be held in Lahore, he said different aspects of security cover for the match were being discussed and a final decision would be taken in 24 hours.

He said the terrorists’ network responsible for the attack at Charing Cross had been traced and all members of the network had been arrested.

No local facilitator was involved in the network, the minister claimed. An action plan was being devised in the light of information divulged by the arrested terrorists, he said.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2017

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