A car bomb exploded at a CNG station situated in front of an Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) office in Faisalabad, killing at least 25 people and wounding 130 others on Tuesday, officials said.
Many of those hurt were trapped for hours under debris or hit by shrapnel after the blast reduced the station building to rubble, with rescue workers heaving away stones and metal to pull survivors.
The gas station owned by a former DIG was flattened in the blast that occurred at 10:19 am, while a nearby office of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) was badly damaged.
“The rescue work is almost over. Most casualties were recovered from the debris of the PIA building and gas station,” said Adnan Khalil, the official in charge of the rescue effort.
Police and hospital officials confirmed that 22 bodies had been received. More than 35 vehicles were destroyed in the blast that created a 10-foot deep crater at the site. Four people are said to have lost their lives as they were buried alive under the debris. A security guard at the CNG station and an ISI official were also among the injured.
CPO Faisalabad Dr Usman said that about 150 kilogrammes of explosive material was used in a silver-coloured Mehran. It is said that terrorists wanted to target the nearby ISI building.
A six-member team of the Counter Terrorism Wing (CTW) of the Federal Investigation Agency collected samples of explosive material from the crime scene and sent them to Islamabad for analysis. The CTW officials said that the blast was caused by a remote device and created a crater 4 to 4.5 feet deep and 10 to 12 feet wide.
Witness Ijaz Hussain told reporters at the site that he heard and felt a loud blast before chaos ensued.
“It was a deafening blast – I thought the ground had been jolted by an earthquake. Everybody was running here and there to save their lives. I saw injured people and bodies scattered here and there,” said Hussain.
“I was on way to my office after parking my office car at the gas station,” a PIA driver, Mohammad Safdar, 42, told AFP from his hospital bed where he was being treated for leg injuries. “Suddenly there was a huge blast and I felt somebody threw me away. I was brought to the hospital unconscious.”
Television pictures showed the station had been reduced to a pile of bricks and gnarled metal as rescue officials worked to remove rubble from the scene to search for survivors, and ambulance vehicles ferried the injured away.
Senior administration official Zaheer Anwar said that by the evening there was no-one left trapped under rubble.
In addition to the offices of two intelligence agencies, there are military offices in the area as well.
A hand grenade was found near the place of the incident which was allegedly hurled at the building of the intelligence agency but it could not explode. The bomb disposal squad defused it.
Who is responsible?
Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, claimed responsibility, telling Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location the attack was in retaliation for the killing of one of their commanders in the city. He was referring to the killing of a senior Pakistani Taliban member in a shoot-out with police in Faisalabad last year.
The Express Tribune has learnt that an intelligence agency believes that the Fedayeen-i-Islam, an alliance of Punjabi Taliban group headed by Rana Afzal alias Noor Khan was behind the bombing.
The intelligence agency reported last week that Azfal and accomplices had paid frequent visits to Faisalabad recently and were possibly planning to attack police offices or the offices of other security agencies.
Afzal is originally from Kabeerwala but now reportedly lives in Waziristan. The Fedayeen-i-Islam is made up of six militant organisations, led by Illyas Kashmiri, Asmat Maaviya group, Qari Zafar, Rana Afzal, Qari Hussain and Commander Tariq.
With additional input from Asad Kharal in Lahore and agencies
Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2011.