At least ten people, including four policemen, were martyred when an alleged suicide bomber detonated his explosive laden vest near one of the gates of Lahore’s famous Data Darbar shrine on Wednesday morning. At least 21 people sustained injuries as a result of the huge explosion.
According to eyewitnesses, the incident took place near the shrine’s gate number 2 – used as entrance for female visitors – close to a vehicle of the Elite Police. “It was a suicide attack and the police van was targeted,” Punjab Inspector General Police Capt (retd) Arif Nawaz Khan later told media.
They said the bomber hit the Elite Police van at 08.44 am. He was around 16-year-old boy wearing shalwar kameez and a jacket. Footage from a nearby CCTV camera shows the suspect walking across the road to Elite Police van where the blast takes place.
Panic spread in the locality after the blast as Data Darbar is a crowded place. Deafening sound of the explosion was heard in a radius of many miles. Videos, captured from relatively far away rooftops, also showed a plume of smoke emerging from the crime scene.
Officials said police and Rescue 1122 teams rushed to the spot after the attack and started shifting the dead and the injured to the city’s Mayo Hospital. Security forces also cordoned off the area and started an investigation into the incident.
The martyred policemen were identified as in-charge head constable Sohail, constable Shahid Nazir, constable Gulzar and constable Saleem. A security guard, identified as Rafaqat, also laid down his life. A child was also among the deceased persons.
The injured police officials were identified as Nawaz from Elite Force, constable Saddam Hussain, constable Ijaz-ul-Haq and constable Muhammad Kamran. Other injured victims were identified as Lubna Idress, Muhammd Yousaf, Ghulam Fareed, Dildar Hussain, Aurangzeb, Abdul Raheem, Haji Ibrahim, Sarwar Khan, Shabbir, Faisal, Allah Ditta, Faryad, Muhammad Asif, Waqas, Ansar and Faizan.
Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar cancelled his visit to Bhakkar and summoned higher police officials and officials of the Safe Cities Authority. The chief minister also asked the Punjab inspector general police to submit a report on the incident.
CM Buzdar, Punjab IGP Nawaz and Punjab Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) chief Rai Tahir also visited the crime scene. “We will bring the elements involved in the attack to justice. A crackdown is ongoing across Punjab against militant outfits,” said the IGP Nawaz.
“All departments including the Counter Terrorism Department are working to figure out who conducted the attack. We won’t spare any efforts for the security of the citizens,” added another police official.
The forensic staff began collecting evidence from the blast site and an emergency was imposed in hospitals across Lahore. "Additional pickets have been set up across the provincial capital and security has been heightened after the blast,” said Operations DIG Waqaruddin Syed.
“Unauthorised personnel will not be allowed to enter the Red Zone,” said the DIG, adding that citizens can enter the area if they show their national identification cards.
Sources said investigators were collecting evidences including CCTV footages of nearby shops and those installed by Auqaf Department and PSCA. They were skimming through the videos to know movement of the suspect and his possible facilitator/handlers. They were also conducting geo-fencing of the area.
Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmeen Rashid said emergency was announced in Mayo Hospital and senior doctors including professors were asked to remain on duty.
In the evening funeral prayers of martyred police officials were offered at Qila Gujjar Singh Police lines in which government representatives, senior police officers, army officers and others said the prayer.
Later Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JeA), a splinter faction of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack. This was not the first attack in Lahore claimed by the group. It has also claimed responsibility for all the four previous attacks that have taken place since February 2017.
These attacks include February 2017 Mall Road attack; April 2017 Bedian Road blast on a census team; July 2017 Ferozpur Road blast on a group of Anti-Riot Force officials and Raiwind Road blasts targeting a police post.
The Data Darbar was also targeted in 2010 when a suicide bomber had killed more than 40 people. Since then it is heavily guarded. An attack in Lahore in March 2018 had left 9 people dead, while a major blast had targeted Christians celebrating Easter in a park in 2016. Over 70 people were killed in the attack.
Political leaders, as well as people from all walks of life, expressed their dismay and anger over the attack. Prime Minister Imran Khan strongly denounced the blast and sought a report from the authorities.
The premier commiserated with the bereaved families and directed the concerned authorities to provide the best possible medical treatment to those injured in the blast.
Special Assistant to the PM on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan also condoled with the victims of the blast. “Those who target shrines are the enemies of Islam and Pakistan. They conspire to create instability in our country,” she said.
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