At least 13 people, including a DIG Traffic and an SSP Operations, were killed and 84 others injured when a ‘suicide bomber’ exploded himself near a protest demonstration of Chemists Association at Faisal Chowk near Punjab Assembly building here on Monday evening. The incident occurred around 6:10pm when a suicide bomber reached near the police contingents guarding a group of pharmaceuticals protesting at Faisal Chowk in front of the Punjab Assembly building to press the government for acceptance their demands. After the incident, the authorities rushed to the spot.

In Lahore, 13, including two senior police officials, killed; 84, including three Aaj News team members, injured

Talking to media, IG Punjab Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera said that the target of the terrorist bomber was police, adding that the banned outfit Jamaat-ul-Ahrar had claimed the responsibility. “The terrorist attacked the police personnel when they were leaving the spot after holding successful negotiations with protestors,” the IG claimed. Eye-witnesses told media that the blast occurred when a man exploded himself near protestors, media vans and policemen. Consequently, the DSNG of Aaj TV was badly damaged; and its three members sustained serious injuries.

According to rescue sources, they moved the injured to the nearby hospitals including Ganga Ram, Mayo and Services. Of them, four were under critical condition till filing of this report. They shifted bodies of SSP and DIG Traffic and others to Mayo hospital. The dead included DIG Traffic Syed Ahmad Mobin, SSP Operations Zahid Mehmood Gondal, Constable Umer, Constable Irfan and Constable Aslam, Bilal Amjad, Mohsin Ali, Muhammad Yaseen, Mohsin Irshad, Yasir and an unidentified woman.

Lord Mayor Colonel Mubashar Javed (retd), Punjab Food Minister Bilal Yaseen, DG Rangers Azhar Naveed Hayyat, Commissioner Lahore and others rushed to the incident. Army also monitored the crime scene with the help of a drone. Major General Tariq Aman led the monitoring operations.

Punjab Health Minister Khawaja Salman Rafique, Minister Primary Health Khawaja Imran Nazir, Lord Mayor Lahore Mubashar Javed, PML-N Lahore President Pervez Malik, Deputy Mayors and others also visited hospitals. It may be mentioned here that the Federal Interior Department had already issued alert of some terroristic activity in Lahore and had informed the Punjab administration through a letter. Business Recorder had also carried a story quoting sources that some terrorist had entered Lahore to carry out subversive activities.

SP Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) Zafar Iqbal while talking to media persons said that they had collected forensic evidence from the scene. Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif declared Tuesday as ‘Mourning Day’. Meanwhile the traders of Mall Road announced that there would be no trading activity on Tuesday. Leader of the Opposition in Punjab Assembly Mian Mahmood ur Rasheed also visited the crime scene. He criticised the government for not taking solid steps for ensuring peace in the province. He demanded that the government implement the National Action Plan (NAP) and seek support from Army and Rangers to ensure peace in the province.

Police cordoned off the area near the crowded Mall Road, one of the city’s main arteries, as witnesses fled amid fears of a second explosion, with images of the injured being carried away shown by local media. The road had been crowded with hundreds of people, mainly chemists, protesting provincial government plans to further regulate the medical sector. “The blast was so powerful. I saw the injured and bodies, saw flames surrounding the blast site, people were crying,” witness Muhammad Tariq told AFP. Rescue official Deeba Shahnaz said at least 10 people had died in the explosion, while some 71 other wounded people had been rushed to city hospitals, in figures confirmed by hospital sources.

The attack “seems to be a suicide blast”, senior police official Amin Wains said, adding it had apparently targeted police trying to regulate the protest. “Police at the scene have told me that apparently it’s a suicide blast, we are investigating,” Rana Sanaullah, the provincial law minister, told AFP. The Pakistani Taliban faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar swiftly claimed responsibility for the blast, which came three days after it announced it would carry out a series of attacks on government installations around the country.

A spokesman for the group warned in an statement that Monday’s blast was “just the start”. Lahore, the country’s cultural capital, suffered one of Pakistan’s deadliest attacks during 2016, a Jamaat-ul-Ahrar suicide bomb in a park over Easter that killed more than 70 – including many children.

But such incidents have been rare in the teeming city in recent years, with security across Pakistan improving dramatically in 2015 and 2016 after the military launched a crackdown on extremism backed by a government-led National Action Plan. Last month a Taliban-claimed bomb blast at a market in a mainly Shiite area of Pakistan’s north-western tribal belt killed at least 24 people, the first major militant attack in the country in 2017.

Cricket fans on social media quickly voiced fears Monday’s explosion could derail plans to hold the highly-anticipated final of the Pakistan Super League in Lahore. The second year of the Twenty20 tournament is currently being held in the United Arab Emirates out of security fears, though officials had hoped the final could take place in the cricket-mad city.

Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was scheduled to host a ceremony of all the Lahore local body representatives at the Chief Minister Secretariat, situated next to the blast site at the Chairing Cross on Monday evening. He said the local bodies’ representatives and members of the provincial assembly were on their way to approach the site when the blast took place. A widespread traffic disturbance had caused delay, he added.

As many as 16 casualties have been reported till the filing of this report. The pharmacists, medical stores owners and owners of pharmaceutical companies were protesting outside the provincial assembly in large numbers when the blast took place. Traffic flow on the Mall Road remained disturbed throughout the day because the protestors had blocked the road in front of the provincial assembly, precisely at the Chairing Cross.

Business Recorder