CHARSADDA / TANGI: Police heroics averted what could have been a possible carnage at a courts complex in Charsadda district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on Tuesday. A brazen attack by multiple suicide bombers on the Civil Courts in Tangi tehsil was the latest in a series of assaults which have raised fears terrorists are regrouping after a drubbing in military operations.
At least seven people were killed and 21 injured in the assault claimed by the outlawed Jamaatul Ahrar (JuA) faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which carried out a series of apparently coordinated assaults last week including a powerful bomb blast in Lahore which killed 16 people.
Three suicide bombers, also armed with assault rifles and hand grenades, tried to enter the complex housing the court of the additional sessions judge and civil courts from the main gates Tuesday morning.
“The policemen standing guard at the gates challenged and engaged them in a gunfight,” DIG Mardan Ijaz Khan said. Unable to enter the court premises, two of the bombers blew themselves up, while the third was taken down by the police.
Other police officials, however, gave a different account of what had happened. They said one bomber was briefly on the loose inside the busy complex but was killed by police some 20 minutes after the attack began. A second bomber was shot dead by the police and a third died when he detonated his vest outside the main gates, according to the officials.
The area was littered with human remains, while a pile of law books stained with blood and riddled with bullets lay strewn outside an office. The police scoured the area for evidence as military helicopters whirred overhead throughout the operation and subsequent sanitization which continued until afternoon.
DIG Khan said each bomber carried seven kilos of explosives in his suicide vest. They lobbed hand grenades and fired gunshots at the police standing guard at the main gates in an attempt to enter the complex.
Manzoor Bashir, a member of the Tehsil Municipal Administration (TMA) Tangi, said the police had set up a checkpoint on the main road leading to Tangi Bazaar in view of security threats in Charsadda district, which borders Mohmand Agency.
“I was discussing the fluid security situation in the country with Gul Shaid Khan, the SHO of Tangi police station, when we heard heavy gunfire followed by multiple blasts,” he told The Express Tribune. “The bombers wanted to enter the courts complex and the adjacent TMA offices. There might have been a bloodbath, if they had managed to enter,” he added. “The police heroics foiled their attempt.”
Hundreds of people including lawyers, judges and citizens normally attend the court complex.
Deputy Commissioner Tahir Abasi and District Nazim Fahad Riaz confirmed the death toll. The injured were driven to the Tehsil Headquarters Hospital, where Deputy Medical Superintendent Dr Ayaz Khan told The Express Tribune that those with life-threatening wounds had been referred to the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar.
Dr Adnan Khan, who was on duty, said that among the dead were a retired schoolteacher Roohullah and his son Miftahullah, who worked as stamp papers vendor and writer at the complex. Residents told The Express Tribune that Miftahullah had got married only a few months ago.
Dr Adnan said a man, his son and a daughter, who were also among the injured, were brought to the hospital. The father, oblivious of his wounds, kept requesting the medics to save the lives of his children first,” Dr Adnan said. The man was later identified as Marifat Shah, owner of a tea stall at the courts complex. Shah, his four-year-old son Hashir, and daughter Aisha were wounded when the bombers struck. Shah and Aisha survived, but Hashir succumbed to his injuries.
According to a police source, security was tightened in the district after threat alert had been issued by the authorities. “Several search operations had also been conducted in the district,” he told The Express Tribune. “The police managed to foil a possible carnage because they were already on high alert.”
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office condemned the assault. “We are a steadfast nation and will not be deterred by such attacks. Our government will continue to fight against terrorist elements and we will succeed,” a statement said.
A spokesman for JuA claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement emailed to media. Last week, the militant faction released a video announcing a new campaign of attacks against the government, including the judiciary, police and the army.
A series of bombings last week, in which more than 100 people were killed, has shattered a nascent sense that the worst of the country’s militant violence might be over.
The deadliest of last week’s attacks was on the shrine of popular Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalander in Sehwan and was claimed by the Middle-Eastern militant group Islamic State.(With additional input from Agencies)
Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2017.