Four soldiers on census duty die in suicide attack
By Asif Chaudhry & Imran Gabol
LAHORE: At least seven people four army soldiers, an employee of the air force and two other passers-by lost their lives and 18 others were injured in a suicide bomb attack on a population census team on Bedian Road on Wednesday morning.
Giving details about the latest in a series of terrorist incidents in the Punjab capital, witnesses and police said that a man blew himself up next to a van carrying the security personnel who were going to join a census team. The explosion occurred at around 7.50am when the van reached the Mananwala Chowk.
Investigations showed that it was a hired van which had been bringing the team to the highly sensitive area in the cantonmentdivision for the past several days.
According to sources, the van driver, who suffered minor injuries, was taken into custody for questioning by the law enforcement agencies.
Ghulam Murtaza, a witness, told Dawn that he had just parked his motorcycle to drop his son at a school when he was rattled by aloud bang. `I fell and suf fered an injury in the head,` he said.
A column of dust rose above the place where the explosion had taken place. Through this thick sheet of smoke, he saw the sprawled figures of about 20 people who were severely hit by the explosion, the witness said, adding that they included several soldiers.
Initial reports said explosive material weighing about 10kg with ball bearings could have been used in the explosion that was so powerful that it damaged many shops and vehicles. `Thank God, the market was closed at that time, otherwise the damagecould have been much higher, witness Murtaza said.
Security agencies in Lahore have come under attacks in recent weeks. Last month, two police investigators died in a gun assault, and Wednesday`s was the second suicide blast in the city in less than 50 days.
On Feb 13, at least 15 people, including two senior police officers, died and 85 others were injured in a suicide explosion in front of the Punjab Assembly.
On Feb 23, a blast took place in the Defence Housing Authority area, causing deaths, injury and panic. This was blamed on a gas cylinder explosion a theorythat surfaced again as initial reports about Wednesday`s blast started pouring in. Later it became clear that this was a suicide attack.
The law enforcement agencies said they had found the head of the suspected bomber. Other limbs, apparently of the attacker, were also found around the site of the explosion.
`From his features, he could well be an Uzbek,` a police of ficial said, but added that only a forensic analysis would confirm the identity.
`Itwasayoung suicidebomber aged between 16 and 20. He followed the team and blew himself up just short of the van,` Deputy Inspector General of Police Dr Haider Ashraf said.
Citing initial investigations, he said four army personnel and an air force employee were among those who lost their lives in the incident. The two other victims were civilian passers-by. There were some soldiers among the injured besides many civilians, the of ficial said.
No civilian official engaged with the census duty was among the victims.
Lahore police chief retired Capt Amin Wains said the banned militant organisation Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan had claimed responsibility for the attack but it was yet to be confirmed. However, Muhammad Khurassani, a spokesman for the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (T TP), issued a statement claiming responsibility, according to Reuters.
A joint investigation team was formed to probe into the incident.
The Lahore CTD police station registered a case under Sections 3 and 4 of the Explosive Substances Act and 120-B, 34, 186, 353, 427, 109, 302, 324 and 7 of the Antiterrorism Act against unidentified terrorists.
APP adds: According to an Inter-Services Public Relations statement issued after the incident, Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa said that the census would be completed at any cost. `Conduct of census is a national obligation.
He said: `These sacrifices will only strengthen our resolve and with the support of entire nation, we will cleanse the menace of terrorism from our soil.
`My heart goes to bereaved families and my highest tributes to martyrs who laid (down) their lives in the line of duty,` he added.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed his deepest condolences over the loss of lives.