Thursday last, a powerful bomb blast ripped through the bustling Paan Mandi, near New Anarkali Bazaar, Lahore, sending waves of panic across the city.
The incident, which took three lives and caused fatal injuries to over two dozen people, is being viewed as potentially the first in a fresh wave of terrorism that has hit the provincial metropolis.
Those injured were rushed to nearby hospitals. I several cases their condition till the filing of this article was critical.
Initially, the district authorities saw it as a cylinder explosion. But later when it transpired that the injured had been hit by ball bearings and shrapnel, it became obvious that it was a bomb blast.
At the time of the blast, the market was crowded with people including women and children. According to eyewitnesses, a suspicious looking person parked a bike next to a bank building and scurried off. Barely five minutes later, the explosion occurred.
The deceased have been identified as Absar, 9, from Karachi; Ramazan, 30, a resident of Ferozwala; and Yasir, 18. According to police records, Absar was accompanying his parents when the incident took place. The child was immediately taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. His parents too were badly injured.
The incident calls in question the security apparatus of not only Lahore but the entire Punjab. It’s clear that despite the tall claims made by heads of security agencies and the Police Department, many a gap exists in our security system composed of the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD), the police, and a host of intelligence agencies. Unless these gaps are filled, public safety cannot be ensured.
A person named Mureed Baloch, who identifies himself as a mouthpiece for the Baloch Nationalist Army, took to twitter and claimed responsibility for targetting a bank in Anarkali Bazaar, Lahore, with explosives. He claimed that the attack was meant for the bank workers. A detailed statement will be issued soon, he announced.
Circumstantial evidence, the ease with which the attack was carried out and the state of affairs that led to the occurrence of the blast underline the need for a thorough probe into the case to expose the culprits and their motives.
The incident has given a jolt to the Lahore police who are already flexing their muscles for the upcoming PSL cricket gala to be held in the city in the first week of February.
Circumstantial evidence, the ease with which the attack was carried out, and the state of affairs that led to the occurrence of the blast, underline the need for a thorough probe into the case to expose the culprits behind the blast and their motives.
As per the police, a 1.5 kg improvised explosive device (IED), fitted onto a motorcycle that was parked next to a pushcart outside a bank, caused the explosion. It was a high-intensity blast that left behind a crater. Besides, eight motorbikes were smashed to pieces, and the windows of nearby shops and buildings were shattered.
The place where the explosion took place is an intersection of several bazaars. On one side there a medicine market, adjacent to which is the flowers’ market and dozens of food points. A few yards away, there are a host of dry fruit vendors, plastic ware stores and printing markets.
CCTV footage shows that a fire erupted near the pushcart after the explosion. Several people can be seen covering the body parts of those killed on the spot. Some of them are also seen trying to douse the flames.
The forensic and crime scene experts have collected evidence and the CCTV footage. An FIR has been lodged at the Lahore CTD police station by SHO Abid Baig.
As the police appear to be relying mostly on the Safe City Authority data, it is important that out of the 8,000-odd cameras installed in the city, over 3,000 are out of order. Some of these haven’t been fixed for lack of maintenance funds.
A source in the Safe City Project told TNS on condition of anonymity that the project is still not linked to the NADRA data. “That is a major lacuna. This hampers the identification and subsequent arrest of the culprits even if they are identified in the camera footage,” he says. He adds that data collection (from NADRA) is a lengthy and laborious process.
Dr Abid Khan, the DIG in charge of police operations in Lahore, says the CTD has been entrusted with the task of carrying out the investigation.
“Foolproof security has been ordered to avoid such incidents in the future. The security of markets, parks and other public places together with vulnerable buildings and installations has been beefed up in the city,” he added.
Meanwhile, the police are keeping their eyes out for any suspicious activity in and around the city. “We are combing places and looking out for possible hide-outs of the terrorists,” he says.
Talking to TNS, SSP Mustansar Feroz called the attack “an unfortunate act of terrorism.” He said that all-out efforts were being made and all resources employed to catch the culprits.”
The writer is a senior journalist and can be reached at ahsanzia155gmail.com