Two terror strikes within two hours shook Lahore and Karachi on Tuesday despite a heightened security alert on account of Chehlum, leaving 15 people dead and wounding more than 70.
A teenager blew himself up in Lahore near a Chehlum procession, killing 11 people. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they had targeted police.
About 90 minutes later, a motorcycle bomb went off in Karachi’s Malir, killing four people, including three policemen.
The Lahore bombing took place near the Urdu Bazar when a teenager tried to join a Chehlum procession before detonating close to a police checkpoint.
“The bomber had strapped bombs to his body as well as carrying explosives in a bag,” the city’s police chief said.
“He tried to sneak into the procession and exploded himself when police stopped him for a body search at an outer checkpoint.”
An hour and a half later, a second attack hit Karachi. “It was a suicide bombing. The bomber was riding a motorbike and carrying a bag in his hand, which had explosives in it. He struck one of our police mobile vans. The police were the target,” a senior police official said.
At least 11 people were killed and 71 injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a security picket at the Urdu Bazaar intersection on Circular Road on Tuesday.
The bomber, described by police officers to be in his early teens, was apparently seeking to get through to one of the two big congregations taking place in the city on the day.
The dead included three policemen and a woman who was apparently passing by when the bomb exploded. According to hospital sources, 15 of the injured were in critical condition.
The human bomb went off sometime before the procession to mark the Chehlum of Hazrat Imam Hussain was to pass by the Mori Darwaaza-Urdu Bazaar square, approaching the spot from the north, through the narrow lanes of the walled city.
Only a few hundred metres away, to the west of the square, a large number of devotees had gathered at the Data Sahib’s shrine, observing the last day of the sufi saint’s urs.
The blast damaged windowpanes of dozens of buildings and 15 vehicles, including three police vans. The bombing also caused a three-foot deep crater.
A bomb disposal squad and forensic experts collected evidence from the place. Police took into custody the head of the bomber.
A policeman said the boy threw a grenade before blowing himself up. A majority of the injured were rushed to the Mayo Hospital on rickshaws and motorcycles because all roads leading to the route of the procession and the shrine had been barricaded for security purposes. Rescue 1122 and Edhi personnel also carried out rescue work.
It was one of the three main entry points to the main procession and Hazrat Ali Hajveri’s shrine, a police official said.
The bombing site was littered with human flesh and blood with scores of injured people crying for help, eyewitnesses said.
“I fell and could not see anything for at least five minutes due to the dust and smoke caused by the blast,” an injured, Anayat Ali of Gujranwala, said.
Administrative and police officers, members of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s cabinet as well as lawmakers belonging to his Pakistan Muslim League-N called the blocking of the attacker by police a success of the many-tiered security arrangement which was in place.
Mayo Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Zahid Pervez said nine bodies, including those of three policemen, had been received and over 50 injured people admitted to the emergency ward.
An injured policeman, Sohaib, told Dawn the bomber tried to cross the security barriers and blew up himself when police tried to overpower him.
“All I remember is I heard a powerful blast and fell unconscious. When I regained my senses, I found myself in hospital,” he said.
Only last year, two blasts in the same locality had caused death and destruction on a larger scale. On July 140 people were killed and scores others injured in a suicide strike outside Data Ganj Bakhsh’s shrine.
The terrorists returned exactly two months later, targeting a Yaum-i-Ali procession off Karbala Gamay Shah in the vicinity of Data Sahib and killing 40.
Aslam Tareen, the Lahore city police chief, said Tuesday’s bomber appeared to be aged about 15. He was wearing a suicide jacket and holding a black bag.
He blew himself up when he was being frisked. A few hours after the explosion that took place at around 5.30pm, it was being speculated whether the boy was a partner in the crime or had been hoodwinked by terrorists into carrying out the attack.
According to one television report, he could well have been an innocent vendor asked to deliver the deadly parcel by men who could have then blown him up by remote control.
Lower Mall Station House Officer Naveed Azam said the bomber came on foot from Shah Alam Market to hit the main procession but exploded himself when confronted by policemen.
Another report said the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan had claimed responsibility for the attack, leading to doubts being expressed once again about the ability of the intelligence network.
Officials said they had no specific prior information about the act, except for general apprehensions that any public events generated in the given circumstances.
CCPO Tareen said the policemen who were manning the picket had sacrificed their lives to protect citizens and it could have been much worse if the bomber had slipped through the security cordon.
The same view was echoed by Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah and Adviser Sirdar Zulfiqar Khosa.
While Rana Sanaullah argued that the blast could not be termed the result of a security lapse, people gathered for a chehlum procession in Rawalpindi demanded his sacking from the cabinet.
Leaders of the Shia and Barelvi communities have accused the minister of promoting certain extremist groups. The law minister denies the charge.
Meanwhile, at least four people, including three policemen and a passerby, were killed and four others wounded after a bomb rigged to a motorcycle went off in Malir on Tuesday.
The blast took place near a medical centre in Darakhshan Society on the Sharea Faisal, between Malir Halt and Malir 15, at a time when mourners were returning to their homes in Malir after taking part in a Chehlum procession.
Three police constables — Mohammad Imran, Mushtaq and Kamran Qureshi — and a passerby Hafiz Kashif died immediately. Three others — ASI Manzoor, pedestrian Mohammad Sammar and a private security guard Ali Hasan Tanio — were admitted to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre.
Another wounded policeman, Gulfaraz, was shifted to the Liaquat National Hospital. The chief of Sindh police, Sultan Salahuddin Babar Khattak, told Dawn the head of the bomber was found at the scene.
The IG identified him as police constable Kamran Qureshi, who was under training at the Razzaqabad police training college. Mr Khattak said although police initially described the bombing as a suicide attack, it later turned out to be wrong.
It emerged through facts gathered later that the bomb was rigged to a motorcycle, which was first initially spotted by several policemen who then called the area mobile for assistance. As soon as the van reached the spot, the bomb went off, Mr Khattak explained.
The method used in Tuesday’s explosion was similar to the one applied in last year’s attacks on Chehlum processions, a Police official said.
“We pulled out the policemen from the mobile. They had been all burnt but still had some life left”, said Sadiq Raza, an eyewitness.
The police mobile, which belonged to Saudabad police station, was badly damaged. It seemed that the right side of the vehicle bore the brunt of the explosion.
Mangled wreckage of the motorcycle was retrieved from the roofs of nearby houses. Window panes of a number of shops and houses nearby suffered
The blast shattered window panes of a number of houses and shops. An electricity pole listed to one side from the impact.
The SP responsible for investigation could not come out with details even two hours after the tragedy.
“I was doing duty at the Chehlum procession. Now I am heading to the scene of the blast,” SP Manzoor Khatian told Dawn.
Senator Abbas Kumali of the Jaffaira Alliance condemned the Lahore and Karachi blasts, saying that the terrorists were carrying out attacks in desperation.