LAHORE: The suicide bomber who killed and maimed dozens of people — including two senior police officers — outside the Punjab Assembly on Monday also had ‘accomplices’ who managed to flee taking advantage of the ensuing chaos at the bombsite, according to investigations.
Investigators said the bomber was on foot. He walked from Regal Chowk up to the site where DIG Capt (retd) Ahmad Mubeen and SSP Zahid Ikram Gondal were negotiating with protesting pharmacists outside the Punjab Assembly building.
“The pair came to the site together. And as soon as the bomber detonated the explosives he was carrying in his suicide vest, his accomplices disappeared from the scene,” one investigator told The Express Tribune.
At least 13 people were killed, emergency official Ahmad Raza said, including six police officers, while more than 80 were injured. Earlier Tuesday he had put the death toll at 15, but said later that was a clerical error. The toll could have been higher, Raza said, but for two vehicles — a TV news van and a minivan belonging to the protesters — which absorbed much of the impact of the blast.
The Jamaatul Ahrar (JuA) faction of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack and released a purported picture of the bomber. Though the claim could not be verified independently, the man in the picture released by the group bears resemblance to the one seen by investigators in the CCTV footage.
Investigators from the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD), Crime Scene Unit, Punjab Forensic Science Agency and other law enforcement agencies hosed down the crime scene after collecting vital forensic evidence on Tuesday.
The evidence, according to a senior officer of the CTD, includes fingerprints of the bomber and his body parts. “The fingerprints and DNA swabs have been sent to the Punjab Forensic Science Agency for verification,” he told The Express Tribune. “Investigators could not find the severed head of the bomber.”
Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said police, not the protesters, were the target of the bomber. He has blamed the protesters for the deadly blast, saying that the administration had provided security at all important buildings situated on The Mall.
The FIR of the suicide bombing was registered against four unidentified suspects under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, Sections 302, 324, 120-B, 34, 109 and 427 of the Pakistan Penal Code and Sections 3 and 4 of the Explosives Act at the CTD police station, Lahore.
The FIR reads that the police officers were performing duty outside the Punjab Assembly due to a protest by chemists and druggists. Around 6.10 pm, four unidentified suspects came from the Regal Chowk side. When they got close to the policemen, an official signalled them to stop for body search, but one of them managed to cross the barbed wire to get close to the police officials negotiating with protesters. He triggered the charge strapped to his body while his accomplices managed to flee. The complainant, the SHO of the CTD police station, said he could identify the bomber’s accomplices from their faces.
Meanwhile the funeral of the fallen police officials – including DIG Mobeen and SSP Gondal – was offered at the Police Training Centre on Bedian Road. Top political, police and administration, among them Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif and IG Mushtaq Sukhera, and a large number of mourners attended the funeral.
The attack underscored the challenges faced by Pakistan in its push to stamp out militancy, even though security dramatically improved in 2015 and 2016. Groups like the TTP retain the ability to carry out spectacular assaults, despite a military-led crackdown on extremism.
Lahore residents vented their fury at the blast site early Tuesday.
“They (the militants) have no link with Islam nor do they believe in any religion, the only thing they know is killing people, this is utterly an act of terrorism,” said Tariq Saleem.
Nadeem Akhter called on the government to do more to bring the situation under control. “Our children and people are being killed in these attacks,” he said.
Both the UK and the US branded the attack ‘cowardly’ in separate statements, while the EU said it was ‘shocked and saddened’ by the incident.
China highly commended the ‘tremendous efforts’ made by Pakistan to fight terrorism. “We highly appreciate the tremendous efforts made by Pakistan to fight terrorism and extremism and stand ready to further enhance cooperation with Pakistan in this regard,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang said during a regular press briefing in Beijing.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani telephoned Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and offered condolences over the loss of innocent lives. Sharif said terrorism was a common enemy of both the states and such cowardly acts could not deter their resolve, reads a statement issued by his office.
(WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM WIRES)
Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2017.