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ISLAMABAD, July 17: The capital saw yet another day of death and destruction on Tuesday as a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the venue of the district bar council convention, killing 17 people, most of whom were political workers waiting for the arrival of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, who was to address a lawyers’convention.

The attack came on the heels of last week’s bloodshed at Lal Masjid, which claimed over one hundred lives.

More than 50 people were injured in Tuesday’s blast. Many of them lost their limbs and doctors described the condition of more than 10 as critical.

Bodies of four victims killed in the blast were charred beyond recognition.

Among the wounded were women political activists and police personnel performing duties at the convention.

The attack occurred minutes before the chief justice’s scheduled arrived at the venue. It was the latest in a series of terrorist attacks that have shocked the nation in the aftermath of the Lal Masjid operation.

The unidentified suicide bomber blew himself up outside the security cordon where the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) – had set up their camps to welcome the chief justice. The bomber’s head was found a few feet away from the PPP’s camp, which bore the brunt of the attack.

The blast happened near the district courts, adjacent to the headquarters of Islamabad Police. The upscale neighbourhood was expected to have much better security than rest of the capital.

Dozens of political workers chanting anti-Musharraf slogans were present at these camps, while hundreds of lawyers waited inside the convention venue for the chief justice, who was a few kilometres away.

The blast was so powerful that it smashed the window panes of the nearby buildings and body parts of the dead were blown several metres away from the site of the blast. The sound of the blast was heard at Zero-Point, almost 5 kms away.

The atmosphere was filled with the stench of blood and groans of the wounded, with pieces of flesh strewn all over the place.

Shreds of clothes and party flags could be seen clinging to nearby trees.

The first ambulance arrived at the scene almost 10 minutes after the incident. The lawyers and political workers shifted the wounded and the dead to ambulances.

Malik Shuja, a PML (N) leader and eyewitness, said first he heard a big bang and then saw a flash of light. “For seconds I did not realise what had happened, but I gathered my senses quickly and set about helping the wounded.”

Senior police officials present at the site of the blast, some of whom were eyewitnesses, kept mum and declined to comment.

Security sources said six to eight kilos of explosive material was used in the device and parts of suspected suicide belt have been recovered.

The lawyer leaders, speaking from the rostrum, advised patience and unity. They said they would not be `cowed down by such acts of terrorism’, vowing not to relent in their movement for independence of judiciary.

The lawyers decided to go ahead with the convention and the chief justice, who turned midway towards the Supreme Court, finally arrived to express sympathies with the lawyers and victims of the blast. However, he did not speak.

The President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Muneer Malik, and the Chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council, Mirza Aziz Akbar Baig, announced that lawyers would boycott courts across the country on Wednesday. “However, the lawyers pursuing the CJ’s petition in the Supreme Court will appear as usual,” Muneer Malik said.

The lawyers’ convention was widely tipped to be the last in a series of meetings that were organised after the filing of the presidential reference against Justice Chaudhry in March. A decision by the Supreme Court bench hearing the CJs application against the reference is expected shortly.

This was the second incidence of violence related to the lawyers’ movement for the restoration of the chief justice. Violence erupted in Karachi on May 12 when the CJ went there to address the Sindh High Court Bar. Over 40 people were killed that day.

Earlier at the Supreme Court building, the CJ held a meeting with his legal team and other lawyer leaders to decide whether or not to go ahead with the meeting.

Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan told journalists the blast was timed to disrupt the lawyers’ convention.

Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao put the death toll at 17, two of them women.

In reply to a question, the minister said it was a suicide attack as the body and the head of the bomber had been found.

In reply to a question whether he thought that the blast was a backlash of the Lal Masjid operation, the minister said recent suicide attacks in the country had links with Lal Masjid.

“We can say such attacks are the backlash of Lal Masjid operation because whenever any action was taken against the mosque, such incidents occurred,” he said.

About security arrangements, the minister said security arrangements were quite satisfactory, but the suicide bomber targeted the people sitting outside the main venue of the lawyers’ convention.

He said walk-through gates had been installed in the district court premises and everyone had to walk through them so that no one could take any explosive inside the convention venue.

Additional reporting by Irfan Raza, Mohammad Asghar and Munawar Azeem