LAHORE: At least seven people — four army soldiers, an employee of the air force and two other passers-by — lost their lives and 18 others were injured in a suicide bomb attack on a population census team on Bedian Road on Wednesday morning.
Giving details about the latest in a series of terrorist incidents in the Punjab capital, witnesses and police said that a man blew himself up next to a van carrying the security personnel who were going to join a census team. The explosion occurred at around 7.50am when the van reached the Mananwala Chowk.
Investigations showed that it was a hired van which had been bringing the team to the highly sensitive area in the cantonment division for the past several days.
According to sources, the van driver, who suffered minor injuries, was taken into custody for questioning by the law enforcement agencies.
Three passers-by among the victims; TTP claims responsibility
Ghulam Murtaza, a witness, told Dawn that he had just parked his motorcycle to drop his son at a school when he was rattled by a loud bang. “I fell and suffered an injury in the head,” he said.
A column of dust rose above the place where the explosion had taken place. Through this thick sheet of smoke, he saw the sprawled figures of about 20 people who were severely hit by the explosion, the witness said, adding that they included several soldiers.
Initial reports said explosive material weighing about 10kg with ball bearings could have been used in the explosion that was so powerful that it damaged many shops and vehicles. “Thank God, the market was closed at that time, otherwise the damage could have been much higher,” witness Murtaza said.
Security agencies in Lahore have come under attacks in recent weeks. Last month, two police investigators died in a gun assault, and Wednesday’s was the second suicide blast in the city in less than 50 days.
On Feb 13, at least 15 people, including two senior police officers, died and 85 others were injured in a suicide explosion in front of the Punjab Assembly.
On Feb 23, a blast took place in the Defence Housing Authority area, causing deaths, injury and panic. This was blamed on a gas cylinder explosion — a theory that surfaced again as initial reports about Wednesday’s blast started pouring in. Later it became clear that this was a suicide attack.
The law enforcement agencies said they had found the head of the suspected bomber. Other limbs, apparently of the attacker, were also found around the site of the explosion.
“From his features, he could well be an Uzbek,” a police official said, but added that only a forensic analysis would confirm the identity.
“It was a young suicide bomber aged between 16 and 20. He followed the team and blew himself up just short of the van,” Deputy Inspector General of Police Dr Haider Ashraf said.
Citing initial investigations, he said four army personnel and an air force employee were among those who lost their lives in the incident. The two other victims were civilian passers-by. There were some soldiers among the injured besides many civilians, the official said.
No civilian official engaged with the census duty was among the victims.
The injured were taken to the Combined Military Hospital and Lahore General Hospital (LGH) where the condition of two of them was said to be serious, he said.
A state of high alert was declared at all government hospitals in the city, while the law enforcement agencies launched a massive search operation in the adjoining areas.
Lahore police chief retired Capt Amin Wains said the banned militant organisation Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan had claimed responsibility for the attack but it was yet to be confirmed. However, Muhammad Khurassani, a spokesman for the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), issued a statement claiming responsibility, according to Reuters.
Personnel of the army, Counterterrorism Department (CTD), Rangers and police arrived at the blast scene and cordoned off the area, while patrolling was intensified on and around Bedian Road.
“I was waiting for a bus alongside the road when a hard thing hit my chest seconds after the powerful blast,” 16-year-old Farhan Ali told Dawn at the LGH where he was being treated.
Some witnesses, including Talha, a 10th class student at a nearby government high school, said they had noted that the van arrived at the intersection daily to drop off census teams.
A joint investigation team was formed to probe into the incident.
The Lahore CTD police station registered a case under Sections 3 and 4 of the Explosive Substances Act and 120-B, 34, 186, 353, 427, 109, 302, 324 and 7 of the Antiterrorism Act against unidentified terrorists.
APP adds: According to an Inter-Services Public Relations statement issued after the incident, Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa said that the census would be completed at any cost. “Conduct of census is a national obligation.”
He said: “These sacrifices will only strengthen our resolve and with the support of entire nation, we will cleanse the menace of terrorism from our soil.”
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed his deepest condolences over the loss of lives.
Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2017