Suicide gunmen and car bombers mounted an unprecedented attack on the local office of the country’s premier intelligence agency in the otherwise sleepy town of Sukkur Wednesday evening, sparking a shootout that killed eight people and injured over three dozen.
Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the brazen attack on the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) office in the upscale Sukkur Barrage Colony, it is likely to revive fears that the reach of militants is spreading in the country.
The Sukkur Barrage Colony is a high security zone where offices of top government officials – including Commissioner House, DIG House, Sindh Rangers Headquarters and Judges Lodges – are situated.
“It was the ISI office which was attacked. The gate and front walls have been blown away,” Major General Rizwan Akhtar of the paramilitary Sindh Rangers, told AFP.
Four terrorists, armed with hand grenades, suicide vests and assault rifles, launched the organised attack just as local residents broke their fast, sources told The Express Tribune.
DIG Javed Alam Odho told AFP that apparently a suicide bomber first blew himself up in front of a police building and then a second bomber drove his explosive-laden vehicle into the main gate of the ISI office. “Other terrorists started firing and throwing hand grenades at police,” he added.
ASP Sukkur Masood Bangash confirmed eight fatalities to The Express Tribune including four terrorists. However, Edhi volunteers said that they have shifted five bodies and 50 injured to different hospitals of Sukkur and Rohri. They added that the terrorists’ bodies were lying at the site.
Officials also confirmed that apart from the terrorists, the fatalities included three ISI officials and a civilian.
Sukkur Commissioner Dr Niaz Ali Abbasi said that the Commissioner House and the DIG House were partially damaged, while damage to the ISI office was extensive.
The casualties were shifted to Civil Hospital Sukkur, Taluka Hospital Rohri and the privately-owned Hira Medical Centre. However, the injured ISI officials and Rangers troops were driven to the Combined Military Hospital in Pano Aqil due to the precarious nature of their wounds.
Police and Rangers sealed the entire area and disconnected the electricity supply to the building where the remaining two terrorists were holed up.
Security officials claimed that the two terrorists were killed in a shootout with police and Rangers. Media persons were not allowed near the site while the operation continued.
Highly credible sources told Daily Express that the target of the attack was ISI official Major Zeeshan, who had important documents containing details of terrorists. Major Zeeshan was breaking fast in his office when the terrorists mounted the attack. Major Zeeshan was also killed in the attack.
The ISI has been a frequent target for the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan as it wages a deadly insurgency, although Sukkur has traditionally been immune from such violence.
In May 2009, a suicide attack outside a police building next to the local ISI office in Lahore killed 24 people. In November that year a powerful car bomb ripped through ISI’s headquarters in Peshawar, killing 10 people and destroying part of the fortified building.
A month later in Multan two suicide attackers fired at soldiers while driving a truck bomb past security checkpoints in an attempt to approach the local office of the ISI.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has strongly condemned the attack, which he said resulted in the “loss of precious human lives and injured many”.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2013.