Amid an uptick in violence following a brief lull, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the police headquarters here on Tuesday, killing at least five people and injuring 26 others. A splinter group of the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for what it called a “reprisal attack for the execution of its activists”.
The bomber struck just metres away from the entrance to the Police Lines on Empress Road in the heart of the city. The provincial police chief confirmed the Police Lines was the intended target. “The bomber wanted to enter the Police Lines but exploded prematurely,” IG Mushtaq Sukhera told reporters.
After failing to get into the Police Lines, the bomber detonated the explosives strapped to his body in front of a nearby multi-storey plaza housing the offices of travel agencies. The fatalities include a sub inspector and an assistant sub inspector, while most of the injured are civilians – women and children among them.
The Express Tribune reporter saw a thick pall of black smoke rising from the bomb site. Windows of offices in the four-storey building were smashed by the impact of the explosion which also damaged shops and buildings across the road. The road was littered with broken glass and debris from the buildings, while several vehicles nearby were burnt in a fire triggered by the blast. Police said eight cars and more than 20 motorcycles were damaged.
In a knee-jerk reaction, policemen started firing gunshots into the air, whipping up panic in the area as a large number of anxious parents rushed to the nearby Don Bosco High School to enquire about their children. Hoax calls about the presence of a bomb at the Children’s Ward of the Mayo Hospital further added to the panic as staff made frantic efforts to evacuate patients.
The casualties were driven to Mayo, Ganga Ram, Mian Munshi and Nawaz Sharif hospitals. SSP Investigation Rana Ayaz Saleem confirmed five fatalities, but an official of the Rescue 1122 told The Express Tribune that eight people were killed and 26 injured.
IG Sukhera said the bomber carried eight to ten kilograms of explosives in his suicide vest. Police investigators are examining footage from the CCTV cameras installed in the area for more details. CCPO Amin Wains added that they have found body parts of the bomber.
Travel agency employee Muhammad Naveed said the glass door of his office was smashed to pieces following the explosion. “There were six people in the office and initially we could not understand what had happened,” he told The Express Tribune. “We came out of the office after a while to see several people lying on the road – some dead, others crying for help.”
Elderly Muhammad Ashraf, along with his daughter-in-law, was searching for his son Muhammad Shafqat, who works as a hairdresser at the Police Lines. “We are worried about Shafqat, but the police are not letting us in,” he told The Express Tribune as he cried and pleaded with the police officials to take him to his son.
The TTP’s Jamaatul Ahrar faction said it was behind the deadly attack. The group’s spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan said the group dedicated the bombing to all those “who were dragged out of prisons and killed or hanged”. “We want to make it clear to the rulers that we will take revenge for the blood of innocent Muslims,” Ehsan said in an emailed statement and warned of more such attacks. The Qila Gujjar Singh police registered the FIR on the complaint of SHO Rizwan Latif. The bombing came just days after 22 people were killed in a gun and suicide attack on a Shia mosque in the upscale Hayatabad Township of Peshawar.
Lahore has remained relatively peaceful during the TTP’s vicious campaign of bomb and gun attacks, which has left thousands of civilians dead. But last October a suicide bomber killed 55 people at the Wagah border crossing with India close to Lahore.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2015.