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Crackdown in Punjab amid mourning for attack victims

By Asif Chaudhry 2017-02-15
LAHORE: Following Monday`s horrific suicide attack on The Mall which claimed 13 lives and left over 100 people injured, Punjab`s law enforcement agencies have launched a province-wide crackdown on banned militant organisations.

The body parts of the suspected suicide bomber have been sent for DNA test to establish his identity.Officials involved in the investigation into the incident said that senior police officials were the main target of the suicide bomber who blew himself up during a pro-test by chemists.

They said that Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), an of fshoot of the Tehreek-iTaliban Pakistan, which claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement, had attached a photograph of the bomber to the statement. Earlier, the group had doneso after carrying out a terror attack on Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park 11 months ago.

The Provincial Intelligence Centre of the Punjab Home Department has issued a letter directing police high-ups to beef up security in different cities of the province.

The letter has been circulated among the divisional commissioners, regional police officers, capital city police officer of Lahore, deputy commissioners, city police of ficers and district police of ficers.

An officer privy to the development told Dawn that the crackdown was ordered on the basis of intelligence reports suggesting that militants might have planned similar attacks in other cities.

The Home Department has directed law enforcement agencies to ensure extreme vigilance and heightened security.

`Combing operations [must] be conducted in all targeted areas, particularly where the Afghan/ Pathan community is residing, the letter reads. It recommends thorough snap checking at police check-posts and says that abandoned or unidentified vehicles should not be allowed to be parked near public places.

`Traffic jams must be avoided by intelligent use of traffic police staf f as [they] can become a serious security hazard,` the letter says.

A Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) official told Dawn that initial investigations into the Mall attack suggested that the suicide bomber was quite young and had approached the site of the blast from Regal Chowk on foot.

He might have been briefed about his exact target right before the suicide attack and his handlers might have gathered information about the presence of senior police officers at the spot from TV coverage of the protest by chemists, the of ficial said.

The initial investigation was based on the modus operandi of the bomber and the militant organisation that had claimed responsibility for the attack.

The of ficial confirmed that law enforcement agencies had received a particular threat alert regarding The Mall attack which described police official as the main target. In the wake of the alert, a joint combing and intelligence-based operation was launched in the city but no significant arrests were made, he said.

Lahore Capital City Police Of ficer Amin Wains also said that the terrorists had targeted senior police of ficials, not the protesters.

Chief Traffic Officer retired Captain Ahamd Mobin and acting DIG (operations) Zahid Nawaz Gondal were killed in the suicide attack.

There were more than 150 traders, pharmacists and chemists at the protest camp when the attack took place, Mr Wains said. The bomber walked to the police officials and blew himself up.

A CTD official said that JuA was the only terrorist organisation with the capacity to launch an attack in Lahore.

`The CTD had found that the identity of the suicide bomber in the Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park attack matched to the photograph released by JuA with a statement in which it claimed responsibility for the attack,` the of ficial said.

The Twitter account JuA was using now was the same it had used shortly after carrying out the attack in Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park 11 months ago, he said.

`We have collected the remains of the suspected suicide bomber from The Mall, including his smashed head, jaw, hair, a leg, two hands and some other mutilated body parts,` the official said. They have been sent to the Forensic Science Agency for DNA test to establish the identity of the suspect.

Since it was founded in August 2014 by a former T TP leader, JuA had staged several attacks targeting civilians, religious minorities, military personnel and law enforcement agencies, the of ficial said. Last year, the United States placed it on a list of specially designated global terrorists.

`The only solution to end the continuing acts of terror seems to be an indiscriminate, immediate and ruthless operation against terrorists,` Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said while chairing a meeting on Tuesday to review law and order situation, particularly in Punjab.