KHANPUR, RAHIM YAR KHAN: A bomb ripped through a Shia mourning procession killing 18 mourners and wounding dozens, some of them critically, in southern Punjab on Sunday.
The remote-controlled bomb targeted a Chehlum procession in the Khanpur tehsil of Rahim Yar Khan, said District Police Officer (DPO) Sohail Zafar Chattha.
“The bomb was planted near an electricity pylon and it was set off when the procession approached Darkhawasti Square,” he told The Express Tribune retracting an earlier statement which suggested that it was caused when one of the standards (Alm) from the procession hit a high tension power wire.
The procession, known as Alm Walas, was taken out from Darbar-e-Hussain Imambargah and was supposed to converge with the main mourning procession on Shahi Road. Approximately 700 mourners were attending the procession.
“There was a loud explosion a few yards from the procession and we all scrambled to get away,” said Imran Iqbal, one of the mourners. “Debris was everywhere, and a cloud of dust engulfed us. Many people died on the spot.”
The blast site was strewn with human limbs and sandals and blood was splattered all over.
Angry and tearful mourners turned violent after the carnage and attacked police mobile vans and the nearby police station. They roughed up DPO Chattha and District Coordination Officer Dr Ahmed Javed Qazi, blaming them for inadequate security on the procession route.
Police fired gunshots into the air and lobbed tear-gas shells to disperse the irate mourners. However when police failed to control the situation, paramilitary Rangers were called in to restore order.
Colonel Farhat, the in-charge of Cholistan Rangers, told The Express Tribune that they have brought the situation under control.
However, enraged mourners said they would not bury the victims until the culprits of the blast were arrested. Regional Police Officer Abid Qadri travelled to the town to negotiate with the leaders of the Shia community.
The casualties were shifted to the Tehsil Headquarters Hospital Khanpur and Sheikh Zaid Medical College Hospital Rahim Yar Khan. “We received 30 wounded persons. Of them, 23 are in a critical condition,” Capt (Retd) Mushtaq Ahmed, the medical superintendent of Sheikh Zaid Hospital, told The Express Tribune.
In the night, condemnations started pouring in. The Shia Ulema Council and Shia Azadari Council also blamed the government’s negligence for the blast and announced protests in different parts of the province on Monday.
Khanpur city’s Deputy Superintendent of Police Khalid Bhatti was suspended for negligence of duty and Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik formed a committee to investigate the tragedy.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, on his part, announced Rs500,000 for heirs of each of the deceased and Rs100,000 for each of those injured.
Though nobody has claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing, fingers are pointed at the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. More than 4,000 people have died in sectarian violence since the late 1980s in the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2012.