LAHORE, Jan 10: A suicide bomber struck near the Lahore High Court on Thursday morning, killing at least 24 people and injuring 73 others. Police boots, riot shields and helmets littered the street.

The bomber walked up to a police contingent at GPO Chowk, on Ustad Allah Bux Road, ahead of a lawyers’ protest march and blew himself up.

Most of the victims were policemen. An official list put the death toll at 19 — 16 of them policemen. Sixty-two people were injured. The Edhi Trust and Rescue 1122, however, put the death toll at 24.

The bomber’s severed head was found some 30 metres away from the site of the bombing, in an alley separating the High Court buildings from the Supreme Court’s Lahore Registry, a security official told Dawn.

“One side of the head of the bomber, who had shoulder-length hair, was damaged.”

Bodies and limbs of the victims were scattered all around the place and even adjacent buildings were affected.

Doctors said that condition of most of the injured was serious.

Badly damaged cars, vans, trucks, motorcycles and rickshaws lay on the busy Allah Bux Road, which leads to the Auditor General’s office from the Mall.

“The sound of the blast shattered the front screen of my van before I could pull it over,” said Mohammad Fayyaz, the injured driver of a passenger van.

It took police two hours to cordon off the entire area. The suicide bombing coincided with the start of a lawyers’ rally. The lawyers had just come out of the Aiwan-i-Adl, on the Lower Mall, to join their peers at the High Court and were only metres away from the scene of the crime when the explosion happened.

Malik Iqbal, a deputy inspector general of police, told reporters that the bomber, who had a few days’ stubble, was wearing a track suit.

He said plastic surgeons at the King Edward Medical University had reconstructed the head of the bomber partially and were still working on it.

A constable admitted to the Services Hospital said the blast occurred when a police official was trying to remove a white Suzuki car parked near the place where police had been deployed.

“We don’t let anyone park a vehicle near us. As soon as the official tried to open the door, the blast occurred,” the constable said.

“We all fell on the road. I could not move my limbs. When I turned my head, I saw one of my colleagues badly burnt.”

Aftab Cheema, SSP Operations, said the bomber had a 14-kg explosive device, with three kilograms of ball bearings, strapped to his body. He said the size of the ball bearings was larger than the ones used in earlier blasts.

’’A man rammed into our ranks and soon after there was a huge explosion,” said policeman Syed Imtiaz Hussain, who suffered wounds in his legs and groin.

“I saw the bodies of other policemen burning. It was like hell.’’

“It was a very loud blast. I was one of the first who rushed out of the court and saw a man bleeding from his nose and mouth. He died minutes later,” said lawyer Khurram Latif Khosa.

“I saw about 50 to 60 injured policemen, bleeding, scattered everywhere. They were asking for water.”

After visiting the blast site, the Inspector-General of Punjab Police, Nasim Ahmed, said the target was the police force.

“Today’s bombing was to demoralise the Punjab police, but it will not. They have given their lives while performing duty.”

“There was a huge bang,” recalled Munrian Bibi, 60, a school cleaner who was injured as she headed home from work. “I saw people falling on the ground crying for help. I don’t know what saved my life from that hell,” she said in hospital where she was being treated for leg injuries.

Police constable Jameel Ahmed said the attacker was a man aged about 25 who had arrived outside the court on a motorbike.

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