ISLAMABAD / ATTOCK: Punjab Home Minister Col (retd) Shuja Khanzada was killed along with 16 others in a suicide blast at his political office in Shadi Khan near Attock on Sunday.
“Home Minister Shuja Khanzada was killed in the suicide blast,” confirmed Adviser to Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif Dr Saeed Elahi.
Khanzada, 71, had been holding a meeting with local people. He was trapped with several others under the rubble after the blast brought down the roof of the house.
“There were two suicide bombers, one stood outside the boundary wall and the second one went inside and stood in front of the minister,” IG Punjab Mushtaq Sukhera told reporters.
“The blast by the bomber standing outside ripped the wall which caused the roof to fall flat on the minister and people gathered there,” he said.
Sukhera added police were investigating whether the attacker inside the building detonated a bomb.
The death toll rose to 14, including the minister and two police officials, with 23 others injured, the IG Punjab said.
Four of the injured were shifted to DHQ Hospital Rawalpindi but three of them later succumbed to their wounds raising the death toll to 17. Khanzada’s driver of home minister, Ghareeb Nawaz, was also among the dead.
Twenty-two people had been taken to hospital, he said, adding the body of the suicide bomber was also found.
Khanzada’s body was recovered from under the rubble and was transferred to Rawalpindi via helicopter for postmortem.
“There were between 20 and 30 people present when the blast took place,” district information officer Shahzad Niaz told Reuters. “The roof collapsed.”
The rescue and relief operation was concluded after hours of efforts by Rescue 1122 and Pakistan Army, among others. An emergency was also declared in hospitals in the twin cities.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar had directed for the provision of helicopters from the interior ministry for shifting the injured on an emergency basis.
Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif took notice of the blast and DPO Attock reached the site.
He announced a three-day mourning across Punjab.
Azad Jammu and Kashmir Prime Minister Chaudhry Abdul Majeed also announced one-day mourning over Attock tragedy.
Condemnations pour in
Soon after news of Khanzada’s death, PM Nawaz said, “Sacrifices of our brave nation and valiant heroes like Shuja Khanzada will destroy terrorist designs and they will be chased to their last hideout and eliminated with national resolve and unity.”
“The courage and valour of Shuja Khanzada is message to the masterminds of terrorists that they are bound to be defeated,” he added.
The premier reaffirmed the commitment and determination of the government for pursuing the National Action Plan against terrorism with full force and directed for preemptive security strategy to counter terrorist planning.
PM Nawaz urged law enforcement agencies to not lower their guards till the elimination of the last terrorist.
Army chief General Raheel Sharif also condemned the attack on Khanzada.
“Condemning the terrorist attack on Punjab home minister, army chief directed intelligence agencies to help find perpetrators,” DG ISPR Asim Bajwa said quoting the army chief.
“Such dastardly coward attempts can’t dent our national resolve to eliminate the menace. Khanzada was a bold officer whose sacrifice for the greater cause of cleansing Pakistan won’t go to waste,” he added.
Punjab chief minister also condemned the incident.
Meanwhile, PTI chairman Imran Khan said he was grieved to learn of Khanzada’s death.
Further, President Mamnoon Hussain while condemning the suicide attack on Khanzada said such cowardly attacks could not dent the resolve of Pakistanis to end the scourge of terrorism and extremism.
In a statement, President Mamnoon expressed profound grief and sorrow over the martyrdom of Punjab home minister, saying his martyrdom would not go in vain.
He extended his heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family and prayed for them to bear this irreparable loss with courage and fortitude. The president also expressed condolences for other people killed in the blast.
Punjab Governor Malik Muhammad Rafique Rajwana expressed deep sorrow and grief over the loss of lives, including Khanzada’s demise, in the blast, according to Radio Pakistan.
Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah condemned Khanzada’s killing and said they will not rest until terrorism is eliminated. “The attack is an act of cowardice,” he added. Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad also condemned the attack.
Further, Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari condemned the attack on Khanzada’s political office and called for unity in the national ranks to eliminate terrorism.
In a statement released by PPP’s media cell on Sunday, Bilawal said, “Such cowardly attacks cannot lower the morale of the nation which has risen up against bloodshed and terrorism.” The PPP chairman also prayed for those who lost their lives in the attack and wished for the early recovery of the injured.
Opposition Leader in the Punjab Assembly Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed also condemned the attack, and urged the government to ensure peace in the province while also demanding practical steps to curb terrorism.
Terming the attack an act of terrorism, he expressed sorrow over the incident and extended condolences to the families of the deceased.
Taliban splinter group claims responsibility for attack
“We accept responsibility of attack on Shuja Khanzada was killed in the attack,” spokesperson for the TTP Jamaatul Ahrar, Ihsanullah Ihsan said in a statement.
The statement was sent to the media and posted online.
Earlier a Taliban-affiliated militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam, claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was retaliation for military operations against them, according to Reuters.
It was unclear if Lashkar-e-Islam, based mainly in the tribal areas along the Afghan border, had actually carried out the attack or was just taking credit for it.
Funeral prayers held
The funeral prayers of the late Punjab home minister and slain DSP Shaukat Shah were offered at Police Lines in Attock.
The prayers were attended by Punjab Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, members of national and provincial assemblies, IG Punjab and RPO Rawalpindi, among others.