LAHORE: Fifteen people were killed and around 75 injured when two suicide bombers blew themselves up during prayers at two churches in Youhanabad here on Sunday, sparking mob violence in which two suspected militants were set on fire.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for
the twin attacks at St John’s Catholic Church and Christ Church School, which are separated by around 400 meters.
Senior police officers claimed one of the remaining two terrorists was also arrested and shifted to an unknown location for interrogation.The policemen deployed at the churches were reportedly busy watching the cricket match when the suicide bombers entered the churches. Private guards stopped the intruders, saving the worshippers from massive casualties.
Children and women were among the victims. They were shifted to the Lahore General Hospital (LGH) and Ittefaq Hospital.Six people, including two policemen, died on the spot while nine others succumbed to injuries at the hospitals. The condition of 20 injured people was stated to be critical.
Security guards and eyewitnesses told The News that services were in progress at the time of explosions, which occurred one minute apart at 11:20am.They further said three terrorists each attacked the churches. The first blast was carried out at the Catholic Church and the second at the Christ Church.
Issac Alam, a tailor who was at his shop on the opposite side of the Catholic Church, told The News that three young boys approached the security guards outside the church and argued with them for entering the premises.
The guards asked them to first identify themselves over which one of the attackers blew himself up. The bomber’s head and other limbs fell into his shop, while four people, including a policeman, died on the spot.
The suicide jacket weighed 6-8 kg and contained ball bearings and shrapnel. The impact of the blast was so huge that the main gate flew 100 yards away. The entrance to the church was littered with blood and body parts of the victims. Bikes and adjacent buildings were also damaged.
Two out of the three policemen watching the cricket match at the time of the blast also received injuries. The owner of a vegetable shop was also among the victims.After the first blast, the other three terrorists targeted the Christ Church. The suicide bomber confused the church with the adjoining pastor’s house and argued with the security guard over entry.
Two of the attackers resorted to indiscriminate firing to clear way for the bomber. Eyewitnesses claimed that Uncle Zahid Goga and Adnan Shamim Bhatti, Advocate, captured the two attackers. Meantime, the bomber detonated the explosives. As a result, three people died on the spot while over 50 sustained multiple injuries. Many citizens fell prey to the bombing, as Christ Church is situated in a busy market.
At least 2,000 worshipers, who were attending the services at both churches, remained safe due to the bravery of security guards.Owing to a large number of people expected to attend the services, the church administration had divided the morning service into two parts. The first service was held from 8am to 9am, while the second was taking place at the time of the terror hit.
It is worth mentioning that a CCTV camera was installed at the Christ Church while there was no security camera at the other church.Ambulances of Edhi Foundation and Rescue 1122 reached the scene within no time and shifted the victims to hospitals.Following the attacks, the enraged residents of Youhanabad took to the streets and banned the entry of strangers. They captured two suspected terrorists from the Christ Church, beat them black and blue and later set them ablaze on the Ferozepur Road.
The police tried to bundle them into a van but the protesters brought them to the Ferozepur Road where they sprinkled petrol on them and set them ablaze.None of the policemen present on the scene could stop the protesters from lynching the suspects.
The charged protesters did not allow the police to reach the crime scene. As the police could not cordon off the crime scene, it was messed up by the locals, resulting in the wastage of potential forensic evidences.Later, experts of the Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA), Crime Scene Unit and Bomb Disposal Squad were given access to the spot to collect the remaining evidence.
A massive crowd also gathered outside the LHG and chanted slogans against the Punjab government.The Christian youth took over the hospital security and conducted a thorough body search of the visitors before allowing them to enter the premises.
People were of the view that adequate security was not provided to the churches despite threats from terrorist organisations.Federal Minister Kamran Michael reached the spot to negotiate with the protesters but the enraged citizens did not allow him to carry on talks, forcing him to return.
Worshippers gathered outside the churches after the explosions and protested against the government for not providing adequate security. The enraged mob hurled stones at the Metro Bus and blocked its route.
A heavy contingent of police led by CCPO Amin Wains and DIG Operations Dr Haider Ashraf reached Attari Saroba where the protesters stopped them from heading toward the crime scene. The commanders of Lahore police, DCO and other officials discussed the strategy to handle the enraged protesters but to no avail.
The protesters damaged both public and private properties, including the Metro Bus, and smashed the windscreens of dozens of cars besides damaging the structure of Metro Bus at various points.
The protesters blocked the Ferozepur Road, suspending traffic for hours. Markets and shops were shut in the vicinity as tension and panic gripped the area after the incident.
In the afternoon, the protesters blocked the Ferozepur Road near Model Town Park in front of the LGH and Camp Jail. They also staged protests in Green Town, Gulberg, Bagrian, Youhanabad, and Badami Bagh.
“Both the blasts were suicide hits,” Haider Ashraf confirmed, as he requested the people to remain calm.
The dead were identified as Musa Tanveer, Abdul Majeed, Mohammad Sadiq, Mohammad Ramzan, Nadeem, Mukhtar, Head Constable Rashid Minhas, Zahid Yousaf, Ilyas Bhatti, Ambreen Obaid, Obaid Sardar, Shahzad and Yamas.
Ambreen Obaid, who served at the LGH as staff nurse, and her husband Obaid Sardar, a private male nurse, both died outside the church. The couple was survived by a two-year-old daughter. Obaid had offered resistance and tried to overpower the suicide attacker who blew himself up.
Sadiq, a rickshaw driver by profession and a resident of Chungi Amarsadhu, along with his cousin Ramzan had come to Youhanabad to drop some goods when the incident took place. Sadiq and Ramzan were survived by four and three children respectively.
Another victim Nadeem, a resident of Youhanabad, ran an installment centre, while Shahzad and Ilyas were sitting in their shops when the blasts rocked the area.
Meanwhile, the police carried out a massive search operation in and around Youhanabad, while mobile service was also suspended.
The CCPO suspended Nishtar Colony SHO Muhammad Akmal for negligence. No case was registered till the filing of this report in the evening. Police said a case would also be registered against the protesters involved in the lynching of two suspects.
Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif strongly condemned the bombings and announced Rs0.5 million for the heirs of each victim and Rs75,000 each for the injured.On the other hand, the Punjab government announced one-day mourning on Monday (today).
Agencies add: Sources said the intelligence agencies had already alerted the police that terrorists were planning to target the two churches.