LAHORE: At least 26 people, nine policemen among them, were killed and 51 others injured in a suicide bomb explosion near the Arfa Karim IT Tower on Ferozepur Road on Monday afternoon.
According to initial reports, the bomber rammed his motorbike into over 100 policemen and as many other people who had gathered during an anti-encroachment action being taken by the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) in the Kot Lakhpat Fruit Mandi.
The blast took place a few hundred yards from the Punjab chief minister’s 80-H, Model Town, residence, sending a wave of panic in the vicinity.
Terrorism revisited the provincial capital after three months, amid a security high alert after some intelligence reports about the presence of more suicide bombers in the city.
In the last suicide attack on a population census team on Bedian Road in April, terrorists had claimed the lives of seven people, including four soldiers.
Police high-ups confirmed that Monday’s incident was a suicide attack and the target of the lone terrorist who came on a motorbike was police personnel.
The explosion was so powerful that about 25 people died on the spot, according to witnesses.
“Over 100 policemen, including two dozen from the newly established anti-riot force, were present to provide security to the employees of the LDA who were demolishing buildings in the Sabzi Mandi near Arfa Karim Tower,” Lahore Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Amin Wains told Dawn.
He said as soon as some policemen deployed in the front security row stopped the motorcyclist, he blew himself up.
The terrorist wanted to reach the police personnel where they had gathered in a large number, the CCPO said, adding that nine policemen were among the victims.
A sub-inspector, an assistant SI and two brothers serving in the police were among the deceased, he said.
An hour after the incident, the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack. The group claimed that the attack was carried out by its member Fida Hussain Sawati and released his photograph on social media.
Amjad Ali, a shop owner, said he saw the motorcyclist approaching policemen and moments later there was a powerful blast followed by a plume of dust and flames.
“As soon as the blast occurred, I saw over a dozen policemen in uniform lying in a pool of blood beside many women and children,” he said.
Many people rushed to shelters when someone alerted the crowd about the possibility of another attack, he said.
“I saw a motorbike and a car in huge flames,” said Arif, a security guard of a nearby building.
The Arfa Karim Tower was immediately vacated amid emergency sirens.
The explosion was heard at least 2km away and formed a small crater at the site.
Rashid Manzoor, 30, who suffered chest wounds, said he saw people crying around him before he fell unconscious and regained senses in a hospital.
Rescue 1122 officials said they took the injured to nearby hospitals where the government had already declared an emergency.
Over 20 ambulances shifted more than 50 injured people to various hospitals, they said.
A spokesman for the rescue service said 13 bodies were taken to the Jinnah Hospital, nine to Lahore General Hospital (LGH), two to Services Hospital and one to Ittefaq Hospital.
An injured person later died in the Jinnah Hospital, he said, adding that most of the victims died either on the spot or on the way to the hospitals.
A majority of the injured, including policemen, were taken to the LGH and the Jinnah Hospital, he said.
Police authorities said that the city had been facing serious security threats for the past month.
They said that, according to the threat alerts shared by the intelligence agencies, some suicide bombers had entered Lahore and their prime target was law-enforcement agencies, including the police.
The Counter-Terrorism Department of police registered a case under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act and 302, 324, 148/149, 4/5 and 109 of the Pakistan Penal Code against four people, including the suicide bomber.