A mysterious explosion on a passenger bus killed six people, including an infant, and injured over 50 more in the high-security cantonment area of the metropolis on Saturday.
The blast took place on the Sargodha-bound bus which was parked outside the Cantt railway station – hardly 500 metres away from the Army House where army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was reportedly staying with other military brass.
Several military installations are situated in the neighbourhood. The road leading to the Army House was already closed for traffic and army commandos were deployed in the area. The army chief was in the city to attend the concluding session of the Karachi Corps’ war games.
A military spokesperson, however, told The Express Tribune that Gen Kayani was not present in the Army House at the time of the blast. “The army chief had a lunch and left for Rawalpindi hours before the blast,” he said.
The police kept the media guessing about the nature of the blast which was reportedly claimed by Lashkar-e-Balochistan, an outlawed group of insurgents. The police first claimed the CNG cylinder of the bus exploded, hours later they said the explosion was caused by the compressor of the bus air conditioner, and by evening they said it could be a terrorist attack.
“Investigators could not find traces of explosives which led to confusion about the nature of the blast,” Shahid Hayat, the district south police chief, told The Express Tribune. “Examination of the victims’ clothes will confirm whether or not explosives were used,” he added. The burnt clothes of the victims will be sent for tests to the PCSIR Laboratory.
The bus sustained major damage in the blast and subsequent fire. Fire crew rushed to put out the blaze – but not before it burnt several people, including women and children. “Most of the victims had burn injuries and multiple fractures,” Dr Seemi Jamali, the head of Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre’s emergency section, told The Express Tribune.
Relatives waiting for their loved-ones outside the JPMC protested against police and hospital administration for not letting them in. Contingents of police and paramilitary Rangers reached the hospital to maintain order.
It wasn’t clear how many people were on the bus at the time of the blast, though some witnesses put their number at four. “Thank God, the bus was almost empty,” said shopkeeper Khan Zaman. “Those inside were killed – while those waiting to board were wounded,” he added.
The explosion did not cause major damage to nearby shops, restaurants and hotels, although some windows were shattered by its impact. However, several pushcarts and roadside stalls were damaged in the blast.
Dr Jamali confirmed that the JPMC received six bodies and 54 injured people. “Four of the injured are in a critical condition, while most of them were released after first aid,” she told The Express Tribune. Four of the dead were identified as Fazlur Rehman, Nadeem Hanif, Shafiq Khursheed and Pania Lal Ji.
The city police chief, AIG Iqbal Mehmood, told the media that they have intelligence reports that terrorists were planning attacks. “Still, there are threats, especially on New Year’s Eve – that is why pillion riding has been banned on New Year,” he added.
Senate Chairman Syed Nayyer Hussain Bokhari and his deputy Sabir Ali Baloch expressed grief over the loss of precious lives in the blast. In their condolence messages, they prayed to Almighty Allah to rest the departed souls in eternal peace. Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira also sympathized with the bereaved families. (With additional reporting by Farhan Sharif)
Published in The Express Tribune, December 30th, 2012.
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