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Some saw it coming, but did not police

July 07, 2008

ISLAMABAD, July 6: Sunday’s deadly suicide attack on police may have been a surprise to the city police but not to the people who live in the vicinity of Lal Masjid.

Many of the residents of Municipal Road apprehended violence on the first anniversary of the military operation against the mosque and some even took safety measures.

“I had sent my wife away to her sister’s home in Rawalpindi, fearing some untoward incident like the one that unfortunately took place close to Aabpara Police Station,” resident Hafiz Abu Bakar told Dawn soon after Sunday’s carnage, echoing the general feeling in the area.

Residents had obviously become wiser after suffering a month-long curfew and suspension of gas, water and electricity supplies to the area in July last year during the build-up and subsequent armed clashes between the militants holed inside the Lal Masjid and the security forces.

“All my friends had left the area a day earlier after the Lal Masjid administration distributed pamphlets announcing its plan to commemorate the anniversary and pay tributes to the Lal Masjid martyrs,” said Faizan a student residing in a hostel near the blast site.

“My friends feared a possible revenge attack from the hard liners so they left,” he added.

However the city police appeared to be unmindful or ill-prepared on the occasion to prevent a repeat of the targeted attack by a suicide bomber that it suffered at Aabpara on July 27, 2007 in the wake of the Lal Masjid operation.

Twelve people were killed in that attack, most of them policemen.

A visitor to the area after Sunday’s carnage could feel fear and anger hanging in the air - fear born of uncertainty and anger at the sheer senselessness of the violence.

Abdul Qadeer, who lives opposite to Sunday’s blast site, reflected the mood when he said: “The mayhem of the past one year in the area has put huge psychological strain on the residents. It seems we are living in a war zone.”

“I have two sons and one of my sons was playing in the street. On hearing the blast our first thought went to him.

Fortunately he came running soon, panicked but unharmed,” he said.

This correspondent visited the area some 20 minutes after the suicide bombing and saw children, who would have been playing in nearby streets, scurrying home and anxious mothers peeping from half-open doors for them.

Aabpara and Melody markets closed immediately as the sound of explosion reverberated through the area, smashing window panes of many houses and shops.