LAHORE, March 11: At least 26 people, five of them children, were killed and 175 others wounded when suicide bombers struck the provincial headquarters of the Federal Investigation Agency on Temple Road and the office of an advertising agency in Model Town on Tuesday morning.
This was the second suicide attack in Lahore during the past one week. Four navy employees were killed in an explosion at the navy war college last Tuesday.
Twenty-three people, including three schoolchildren and 15 FIA personnel, were killed in the attack on the FIA building. The suicide bombers on a pick-up rammed through the gate of the building, running over a policeman before blowing up the vehicle.
The building caught fire and clouds of thick smoke could be seen from most areas in the city. The blast wrecked the eight-storey building and caused devastation in an area of about one kilometre radius.
Minutes later, one or two bombers rammed a truck into the office of an advertising agency in the ‘F’ Block of Model Town, killing two children and their father who worked as a gardener on the premises. The agency is owned by Salman Batalvi, son of late Barrister Ijaz Batalvi. The building, near the Pakistan People’s Party office, Bilawal House, was destroyed.
Witnesses outside the FIA building said it took fire-fighters almost an hour to put out the flames. Wapda officials cleared the road of smashed cars and cables dangling from poles.
The sound of the blasts was heard and their impact was felt in several parts of the city. Police said around 50kg and 30kg of explosives had been used in the two attacks.
“I was waiting for someone on the balcony of the sixth floor, overlooking the entrance to the building, when I saw a pick-up crashing through the main gate and hitting the security guard,” 22-year-old FIA constable Shafqat Jabbar told Dawn.
“The guard was thrown up several yards before hitting the ground. As I ran towards the stairs I heard a blast which shook the whole building. I fell down, struggling to retain consciousness in thick smoke,” he said.
The explosion caused a 10-foot-wide crater; the building was ravaged beyond recognition. Pieces of smashed vehicles landed in nearby homes and damaged several residential and commercial buildings. People rushed to the three nearby schools where scores of children were injured by shards of windowpanes. “We have treated 42 children,” said Dr Shahla Latif in the Ganga Ram Hospital.
Lahore police chief Malik Iqbal told reporters it was a suicide attack. He said it was too early to say anything about the motive, conceding that investigations into two recent suicide blasts in the city had not yielded substantial results.
The FIA building also housed the Special Investigation Group formed to deal with incidents of terrorism after the 9/11 attacks in the United States. The cell was investigating the recent suicide bombings in the city and its officials claimed having made a “breakthrough” in the Sargodha blast case.
“I woke up fearing it was an earthquake. Doors and windows were shattered and ceilings developed cracks,” said Mohammad Ehsanullah Shah, a resident of Temple Road.
Immediately after the explosion, over 100 people gathered on The Mall and chanted slogans against the government for its failure to protect the people.
In Model Town, witnesses said, a bearded man drove his pick-up loaded with explosives into the premises of the advertising agency.
A source said the house behind the agency’s office had been used by the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) of the Crime Investigation Department (CID) till December last year. The blast damaged the house but its tenants were safe. It left a six-foot-deep crater.
APP adds: The city police chief has constituted two teams headed by Deputy Inspector-General, Investigation, Tasaduq Hussain, to probe into the blasts.