• Five police officials martyred
• Hizbul Ahrar claims responsibility
LAHORE: Terrorism revisited Lahore on Wednesday morning after over a year when a suicide bomber blew himself up near a police van at a gate of Data Darbar, leaving 10 people dead and 25 others wounded and leading to temporary closure of the shrine.
Around seven kilograms of explosives were used in the bomb blast whose responsibility was later claimed by Hizbul Ahrar, an offshoot of Jamatul Ahrar that had targeted law enforcement agencies multiple times in the past.
Punjab police high-ups believed the law enforcers deployed at the shrine for security were the target of the suicide blast, as the suicide bomber exploded himself near the Elite Police van parked outside the gate reserved for female visitors.
CCTV footage showed the suspected bomber, aged between 15 and 17 years, wearing a coat roamed around the shrine shortly before the blast probably looking for his target. As soon as he reached close to the Elite Police van, a powerful blast occurred.
Witnesses said the blast occurred at around 8:45am at Gate 2 of the shrine. The blast was so much powerful that it destroyed the police van and shattered the windscreen and windowpanes of nearby vehicles and buildings, they said.
As smoke cleared, the deformed bodies and the injured were found lying in a pool of blood. Rescue 1122 and others rushed to the scene and shifted the dead and the injured to Mayo Hospital.
Police immediately evacuated all devotees from the shrine and placed a ban on their entry.
King Edward Medical University received nine bodies, including those of five policemen, shortly after the blast, said university’s vice chancellor Prof Khalid Gondal.
He said the condition of four among the injured was critical and they were undergoing complicated surgeries by a team of senior doctors at the emergency ward of Mayo Hospital. One of the critically injured persons died in the evening, bringing the death toll to 10.
While the 11th century shrine was earlier targeted by militants in 2010 when more than 40 people lost their lives, Lahore was targeted after a gap of over one year. A suicide blast in March 2018 had ripped through a police checkpoint near Tableeghi Jamaat’s congregation at Raiwind, leaving five civilians and an equal number of policemen dead. Previously, two similar suicide attacks in February 2017 on The Mall and outside Arfa Karim Town in Lahore claimed the life of senior police officials.
Speaking to Dawn, Inspector General of Punjab Police Arif Nawaz said that there was a general threat of terror attack in Lahore but it was not specified for the shrine of Hazrat Ali Hajveri.
He said it was a targeted attack, explaining that the terrorists hit the police van parked outside the shrine. He said five Elite Force personnel were martyred in the blast while four others suffered multiple injuries.
The IGP, DIG Operations and officers of other law enforcement agencies also visited the site, which was cordoned off following the suicide attack.
Besides remains of the suicide bomber, forensic experts collected other evidence from the crime-scene and sent them to the Punjab Forensic Science Agency for analysis.
Shahbaz Gill, the spokesperson for Punjab chief minister, told reporters that the attacker was a 15-year-old boy.
Masroor, one of the injured victims, told the media that he was purchasing fruit from a vendor near the shrine when the blast occurred. When he regained senses moments after the blast, he saw several people lying in a pool of blood and crying for help, he said.
Another victim who suffered chest injuries, Yusuf, said he was crossing the road to enter the shrine when he heard the blast and some heavy object hit him in the chest.
The counterterrorism department of police later registered an FIR. It stated two suspected terrorists brought the young suicide bomber along with them and dropped him outside the shrine of Hazrat Ali Hajveri before leaving the place.
All regional police officers and city police officers have been directed to examine security arrangements in their respective areas and remain alert during the month of Ramazan.
Officials believe that the Wednesday attack highlighted the need for vigilance by citizens gathering for worship during Ramazan. “People should remain aware of their surroundings when going to pray,” suggested Punjab minister Mian Aslam.
Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2019