Eight dead as mystery blast wrecks Lahore cafe

Published: February 23, 2017
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Punjab police spokesperson says it was a bomb attack. PHOTO COURTESY: TWITTER @ASHES KHAN

Punjab police spokesperson says it was a bomb attack. PHOTO COURTESY: TWITTER @ASHES KHAN

LAHORE: Another deadly explosion wrecked the capital of Punjab on Thursday, less than a week after a suicide bomber mowed down 16 people – including two senior police officials – outside the Punjab Assembly. The blast tore through a shopping centre in the upscale Defence neighbourhood of Lahore, killing eight people and leaving 39 others injured.

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Initially, there was confusion about the nature of the explosion at Z-Block of the Defence Housing Authority (DHA), which is replete with upscale boutiques and cafés, but more than eight hours later the police concluded it was an accidental blast caused by gas cylinders.

The blast ripped through Alferno Café’, situated in the basement of the building, at 11.17 am. The café was scheduled to be inaugurated a few days later. The owner, Moazzam Paracha, and over 20 workers were present in the café when the explosion went off.

Officials move a damaged car from the site after a bomb attack in Lahore on February 23, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

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One worker, Adnan, told the police in his statement that a few days ago the owner had brought five gas cylinders, each weighing 45kgs, four of which were placed in the basement. On Friday night, the workers had complained of foul odor in the basement, suggesting possible leakage, he added. “My brother, Asif, lit a match-stick to smoke a cigarette which could have possibly triggered the explosion.” Asif also died in the explosion.

“It was a deafening explosion,” said police official Haider Awan, who was checking security measures at a bank adjacent to Alferno Café, along with ASI Haroon Javed and a constable. “Initially, I couldn’t understand what had happened,” he recalled. “When I regained senses I saw my colleagues badly injured, bleeding profusely,” he added.

“My God, my God, I saw so many bodies,” said Imtiaz Ali, a barber in a Toni & Guy hair salon opposite the blast site. “When I came out I just saw smoke and dust… Bikes upturned. Cars destroyed. My own colleague’s car windows blown out. My clients’ cars blown out. I was close to fainting.”

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Police official Awan said the blast was followed by chaos as people started running around while injured were crying for help. “I saw three bodies lying at 100 meters away from the blast site,” he said, adding that he immediately called rescue services.

Muhamamd Ibrahim, an official of a philanthropist organisation, was the first to respond. “When I reached the site, I saw three bodies – charred and mutilated – in the parking lot,” he told The Express Tribune.

Within an hour, police and paramilitary Rangers threw a security cordon around the area as rescuers ferried the casualties to nearby hospitals and investigators from the Bomb Disposal Squad, Counter-Terrorism Department, Punjab Forensic Science Agency and sensitive agencies scoured through the debris to look for vital forensic evidence.

The dead were identified as Moazzam Paracha, CEO of Intel Airlink, Asif, 25, Javed, 40, Imran, 40, Shabir, 25, Habib and Richard Munir. Four of the injured were said to be in a critical condition.

It took them more than eight hours to determine the nature of the blast. Around 3.30pm, the CTD chief told the media on the basis of preliminary investigation that the blast was apparently caused by explosives. He wouldn’t say it was a timed device or a remotely triggered bomb.

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However, hours later the CTD concluded in its investigation report that it was a cylinder blast. “Eyewitness accounts and crime scene examination confirmed it was an accidental gas explosion,” one official told The Express Tribune.

District Emergency Officer Ahmad Raza said they didn’t find any mark of ball bearings or shrapnel on the bodies of those killed or injured, lending credence to reports that it wasn’t a bomb explosion. The Defence A police, in the jurisdiction of which the building falls, also called it an ‘accident’ based on the statement of Adnan.

However, Home Minister Rana Sanaullah said that they were investigating and reports of the Forensic Science Agency would confirm the nature of blast. “The impact of the blast doesn’t confirm that it was a cylinder blast,” he said, adding that investigators were removing the rubble.

The sound impact of the explosion smashed the windows of almost all the buildings within a radius of 200 metres, while the bang was heard as far as two kilometres. Just over an hour later rumours of a second blast in another affluent area nearby sent ambulances racing to the scene, though authorities later said the reports were false.

Panic also spread on social media as citizens exchanged messages purporting to be warnings from intelligence agencies, including one that falsely stated a general curfew had been ordered in Lahore with shoot-on-sight orders.

Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif convened a high-level security huddle after the explosion. The meeting reviewed the security situation in the aftermath of the deadly blast, with the chief minister saying that every possible step should be taken to safeguard the life and property of the citizens.

He directed investigators to probe into the blast from all angles and submit a report at the earliest. He also called for speeding up combing operations across the province to eliminate anti-social elements. Attendees included provincial ministers Rana Sanaullah, Lt Col (retd) Sardar Muhammad Ayub, Jehangir Khanzada, and top police and administration officials.

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Reader Comments (28)

  • Moazzam
    Feb 23, 2017 - 12:13PM

    Ya ALLAH rehamm…Recommend

  • ayesha khan
    Feb 23, 2017 - 12:43PM

    This failed FEDERAL government should step down!! Enough is enough!!! How long will the poor awam die for them??? They have failed to protect us. Ya Allah reham!!Recommend

  • Singh
    Feb 23, 2017 - 1:43PM

    For God sake, pls mend your house.Recommend

  • Lumdheeng
    Feb 23, 2017 - 2:01PM

    China needs to take over security measures of Pakistan, then only bloodshed will.stop.Recommend

  • Ashraf P
    Feb 23, 2017 - 2:01PM

    Even Defence is not safe anymore? All the claims that terrorism has been eliminated is just false !!!Recommend

  • singh
    Feb 23, 2017 - 2:35PM

    Perhaps, you r [email protected]: Recommend

  • Saghri Khattak
    Feb 23, 2017 - 2:53PM

    close Wahga border. the terrorist came from India as it is only 15 kms.Recommend

  • nadeem
    Feb 23, 2017 - 3:00PM

    Broken institutions, never ending power struggles between civilians and military, an elite ( generals, politicians, bureaucrats, feudals, businessmen ) that can’t see beyond plots and riches …….. what should the result be other than this? Recommend

  • Sara
    Feb 23, 2017 - 3:27PM

    India really doesn’t want PSL final in Lahore. Let’s have it in Dehli, that way they won’t pay their friends to do blasts. Recommend

  • Professor Waheed Uz Zaman Tariq
    Feb 23, 2017 - 3:41PM

    Now, Lahore is hit by terrorism. They find easy to reach places for bomb blasts, where maximum loss of lives may be incurred. Military action has to be taken but vigilance and close eye of all of us is required. Political divide over military courts and concentration on non issues should end. The nation must reach to a consensus, for dealing with this menace. Yes indeed, we do not precisely, who is doing it? We have to trace the planning, sponsorship, chain of funding and facilitation. May be that many different enemies of our may be involved in different components. We have to analyse all elements and deal with them, separtely.Recommend

  • FAZ
    Feb 23, 2017 - 5:04PM

    Change in tactics. This is not a suicide bomb. They must be saving them as Afghan border is closed and “supply” is minimum. RIP the innocent Recommend

  • Rou
    Feb 23, 2017 - 5:30PM

    It is an undeclared war by those who have their own agendas in the region.Recommend

  • Lumdheeng
    Feb 23, 2017 - 5:53PM

    @Sara Imaginary conclusions not acceptable, needs hard evidence. Let there be fool proof findings, then nowhere you will be seen,guaranteed. Recommend

  • Lolz
    Feb 23, 2017 - 6:07PM

    And our Prime Minister is leaving for Turkey while all this is happening in his own city. Recommend

  • Humza
    Feb 23, 2017 - 7:04PM

    @ayesha khan: When society is being targeted by cowards paid by anti state agencies, this is precisely the time for society to stand together and not show the coward criminals any satisfaction. Work to build a more united and cohesive society but do not give them the satisfaction of saying look at the mischief and discord we are causing. You know that such acts have come down in number significantly over the last few years but the cowards are trying to mount a come back. The security forces and the nation need to work together in unity. The border with Afghanistan needs to stay closed.Recommend

  • Atif
    Feb 23, 2017 - 7:11PM

    Nobody now gives visas. We cannot go anywhere.Recommend

  • Danish
    Feb 23, 2017 - 8:10PM

    It is amazing how the government and forces will still show their resolve and push for the PSL final to be held in Lahore but when years ago the same happened in Karachi , they simply moved cricket out of Karachi instead of dealing with the problem. Recommend

  • Feb 23, 2017 - 8:24PM

    When will they stop killing innocent people by killing them what will they achieve ? RIPRecommend

  • Billoo
    Feb 23, 2017 - 9:16PM

    It is all about cricket. As soon as Pakistan decided to hold PSL in Lahore, 2 off our best cricketers got trapped in match fixing scandals and then blasts in Lahore particularly. This is an exact repeat of attack on Sri-Lanka team and match fixing scandal that happened some years ago. It is all happening when the cricket world cup is just 2 years away. The purpose is to just inflict enough damage to Pakistan cricket team so that there is no real competitor to Indian cricket.Recommend

  • Sial
    Feb 23, 2017 - 10:04PM

    Never knew cricket is so important that certain forces will go to any length to sabotage its holding. I thought it is only a game. We must show to these sick minds that it’s a game and should be taken as [email protected]: Recommend

  • Sandip
    Feb 23, 2017 - 10:09PM

    @Humza: Similar cowards have bathed the streets of Kabul, Mumbai and Kashmir with blood. I guess some blood is more precious than other for you to be crying out like this only now?Recommend

  • Billoo
    Feb 24, 2017 - 12:48AM

    @Sial:
    These are bookies in Mumbai which earn billions via bets and match fixing and also their secret service is behind. India wants to become Asian super power in the region and cannot see Pakistan competing with it.Recommend

  • Hidden truth
    Feb 24, 2017 - 1:25AM

    What is happening in IOK is not Pakistanis doing. Find the blood of iok’s people on the hands of your forces. Kabul n Pakistan are in the thick of war. No comparison to what happens in India. You people have been spared of this [email protected]: Recommend

  • JILANI
    Feb 24, 2017 - 3:38AM

    Chinese security firms should provide security for all Pakistan cities under CPEC loan umbrella.Recommend

  • gp65
    Feb 24, 2017 - 4:06AM

    @Billoo: ” The purpose is to just inflict enough damage to Pakistan cricket team so that there is no real competitor to Indian cricket.”
    Huh? Are India and Pakistan the only teams? Pakistan has never ever won a World Cup encounter with India, why should India do such things?

    “As soon as Pakistan decided to hold PSL in Lahore, 2 off our best cricketers got trapped in match fixing scandals ”

    Who asked them to go to the bookies? You blame India for the cricketer’s greed?Recommend

  • Rahul
    Feb 24, 2017 - 8:05AM

    @Billoo:
    “The purpose is to just inflict enough damage to Pakistan cricket team so that there is no real competitor to Indian cricket.”

    Billoo you’re so far from reality. Pakistan cricket is no longer a threat to Indian cricket anymore. We’re far ahead of you in that department. And even more so in World cups where the record stands at 8-0 in favour of India. We now consider playing other countries more challenging than Pakistan. Moreover it’s shocking that people are being killed and all you can think of is cricket. Recommend

  • adnan hasan
    Feb 24, 2017 - 7:35PM

    @Singh:
    India has had the higest number of terrorist attacks in the world last year, with more than 400 attacks.

    first mend your own slum before telling others to mend their houseRecommend

  • Billa
    Feb 25, 2017 - 1:59AM

    Are you claiming ‘mission accomplished?’ So, who is behind what’s happening in pakistan? The one who gains the most i.e [email protected]: Recommend

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