Friday June 14, 2024

Taliban target census team in Lahore

By Arshad Dogar
April 06, 2017

Six martyred, 22 injured in suicide attack on Bedian Road; four army men among the victims; van driver, 17 suspects arrested; PM pays rich tributes to security men; army chief vows to continue population count at all costs

LAHORE: Seven persons, including four armymen and a PAF official, embraced martyrdom and 22 others sustained injuries when a suicide bomber targeted at a van used by census teams at the Manawala Chowk on the Bedian Road on Wednesday morning.

Five vehicles, three motorcycles and nearby shops were also damaged in the bombing, which was claimed by the Pakistani Taliban through a statement issued by Muhammad Khorasani, a spokesman for Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa said the census would be completed “at any cost”.“These sacrifices will only strengthen our resolve and with the support of the entire nation we will cleanse the menace of terrorism from our soil,” he said in a statement. He said conducting the census was a national obligation, adding, “Sacrifice of precious lives of civil enumerators and soldiers is beyond any doubt a great sacrifice.”

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the suicide attack and expressed his deepest condolences over the loss of precious human lives. He paid rich tributes to the personnel of the Pakistan Army who were targeted while performing their duties.

The attack occurred at around 7:40am when the soldiers were boarding a private van parked outside a shop. They used to gather at the point for the last four days, according to nearby residents, as the van dropped them at their designated points of duty.

The suicide bomber approached the security personnel on foot, according to initial investigations, came to the rear side of the van and detonated the explosives. Witnesses described being knocked to the ground by the blast, then a “horrible scene” of blood and bodies and the sound of crying.

Khalid, an eyewitness, said he was on his way back home after dropping his children at school when he fell down from his bike due to a deafening sound. “A few seconds later, I regained my senses and rushed towards the direction of the blast where I saw bodies in a pool of blood. There was smoke and dust all around the scene,” he added.

Zafar, who runs a tea stall at a distance of one kilometre from the blast site, said he and
his customers initially thought the sound was of tyre burst but later noticed a large number of people on the road. They rushed to the scene and saw the injured in a pool of blood.

Farhan Aslam, who was wounded in the explosion, said he and his father had been knocked from their bicycle. “I saw two dead bodies on the spot and others crying,” the student told AFP from hospital, where local officials were giving flowers to the wounded as a crowd gathered outside.

The wounded were shifted to the Combined Military Hospital and Lahore General Hospital. The blast site was cordoned off and officials from the Counter Terrorism Department, Bomb Disposal Squad, Punjab Forensic Science Agency and other agencies collected forensic evidences from the crime scene.

Around 10-12 kilogram of explosives were used in the blast. The investigators found the head of the bomber from a nearby roof, which was damaged but still recognizable.According to an investigator, the attacker looked like an Uzbek, while another said he resembled a sketch issued by the SP Model Town a few weeks back. The picture was pasted at all the police stations of Lahore with an intimation that that a 24-year-old man identified as Irfan was a ‘potential’ suicide bomber.

Police, CTD and sensitive agencies launched a search operation in nearby localities and arrested 17 suspects. They used biometric machines with a special focus on tenants.The law enforcers also took Usman, the driver of the van, into custody and shifted him to unspecified location for interrogation.

An FIR on the complaint of SHO CTD Police Station Lahore has been registered against three persons (the bombers and two facilitators).A three-member committee headed by additional home secretary – comprising Additional IG CTD and SP CTD Lahore – has also been formed to investigate the matter.

The CTD and other agencies are investigating the matter further keeping in view different angles. They have collected CDR (Call Data Records) of suspicious phones in use in the area before and after the blast. Geo-fencing of the area is also a part of their investigations.

They are also collecting CCTV footages of the nearby areas to locate the bomber, his hideout and the passage he used to reach the spot.

“The census is a national duty, and we will complete this task,” Lahore official Abdullah Sumbal said. “There was no lack of security, but you know how difficult it is to deal with suicide attacks.”

The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics promised to continue the data collection process as per schedule. “The census will not be affected by the terrorist attack in Lahore,” read a statement issued by the PBS, adding that the attack was aimed at spreading fear amongst the enumerators and other staff members.

Later in the day, the funeral prayers of the four martyred army personnel were offered at Ayub Stadium, which were also attended by Punjab Governor Rafiq Rajwana, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and high-ranking civil and military officials.

Separately, Lahore Corps Commander Lt-Gen Sadiq Ali said those behind the Bedian Road attack would not go unpunished.

During his visit to the Combined Military Hospital, to inquire after the health of the injured, he said the ongoing operation against terrorists would continue. The martyrs lost their lives performing their national duty, he added.