RAWALPINDI: Some eight servicemen were among 13 people killed in a suicide attack in a market adjacent to the Pakistan Army headquarters on Monday morning, police and eyewitnesses said. More than two dozen people were also injured in the attack.
Sources indicated that the death toll could rise as some of the injured had life-threatening wounds.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the blast that tore through the Royal Artillery Bazaar, commonly known as RA Bazaar, a few metres away from the General Headquarters (GHQ). The attack came a day after nearly two dozen paramilitary soldiers were killed in a van bombing in Bannu garrison.
“It was a suicide attack. We are collecting evidence from the spot. We have collected some body parts suspected to be that of the suicide bomber,” SP Haroon Joya told reporters at the site. The busy marketplace was at once transformed into an ugly mess of twisted shutters and rubble. Pieces of human flesh lay scattered on the blood-stained ground.
District Coordination Officer Sajid Zafar Dall said that at the time of the attack a gaggle of children were heading to school. “Our initial assessment is that the bomber was possibly on a bicycle and he then approached the target on foot,” he added. Since it was morning time, RA Bazaar was bustling with office-goers and schoolchildren.
Quoting eyewitnesses, Sardar Zulfikar, the SHO of RA Bazaar police station, said the bomber was walking towards the GHQ but detonated the explosive vest the moment he saw army troops at RA Bazaar’s main roundabout, T-Chowk. The building of National Logistics Cell is located nearby.
The military confirmed that 13 people were killed and 29 wounded in the bombing. According to a statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations, the dead included eight security forces personnel, three schoolchildren and two other civilians.
The casualties were ferried to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH), Rawalpindi. Later the civilian casualties were shifted to the District Headquarters Hospital.
Was GHQ the target?
The RA Bazaar is considered a high security zone due to its proximity with the GHQ. Police investigators believe the bomber intended to target the military headquarters. However, he couldn’t get to his target due to the tight security.
“Apparently, the bomber wanted to enter the GHQ from Gate No. 6. However, he panicked after spotting army troops at a security checkpoint at T-Chowk of RA Bazaar and detonated the explosive vest,” said a senior police officer, who wished not to be named. The blast site is about 15 metres from the peripheral wall of the GHQ.
The neighbourhood has also witnessed such attacks in the past.
In 2009, a group of militants managed to enter the GHQ, killed some troops and then holed up in one of the buildings. After a standoff lasting several hours army commandoes killed the attackers in a successful operation. In 2008, a suicide bomber drove a motorcycle, rigged with explosives, into a 30-seater bus of the Army Medical Corps, killing 11 people, including six armymen.
Investigators confirmed that they have found body parts of the suspected bomber. The skull was found some 300 metres away from the blast site.
Police also recovered three hand grenades and detained a suspected Afghan national for questioning. The suspect, identified as Zahir Khan, looked like a scavenger. He was riding a bicycle in the area at the time of the attack.
“Apparently, he was the second attacker. Or, he was supposed to mount a grenade attack following the suicide bombing. However, he was injured in the blast and couldn’t mount the attack,” SSP (Operations) Mian Maqbool told The Express Tribune. Another four suspects who had come to enquire about Zahir Khan in the hospital were detained. SSP Maqbool said the bomber carried five to seven kilos of explosives in his vest.
Residents and witnesses said the deafening blast was heard within a radius of several kilometres. “There was a huge blast. Within moments, a cloud of dust and black smoke enveloped the whole area. Suddenly, something hit me and I fell unconscious. When I regained consciousness I found myself on the hospital bed,” 50-year-old Muhammad Khalid told The Express Tribune.
College student Hasan Raza, 19, lost his class fellow in the bombing. “I was waiting for my class fellow, Mubashir Mushtaq, at T-Chowk when the bomber struck. “Soon after, there were screams of the injured and survivors. Shrapnel hit me in the leg and I lost consciousness,” he added.
“I was reading a newspaper after opening my shop and all of a sudden I heard a big blast,” Liaqat Ali, a grocery shop owner near the site told AFP. “The intensity of the blast threw me off my chair. I rushed outside and saw smoke and smoke everywhere. I saw injured laying and screaming on ground.”
TTP claims responsibility
TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid claimed the attack as “payback for the 2007 Lal Masjid assault”. “It was carried by one of our suicide bombers to take revenge for the Red Mosque massacre,” he told AFP. “We will continue our struggle against the secular system.”
The dead were identified as Hawaldar Akram, Hawaldar Asghar, Naik Imran, Naik Anwar, Naik Ghulam Mustafa, Sepoy Muhammad Abid, Sepoy Shaheen Badshah, Abid Hussain (civilian worker of the GHQ), Muhammad Sadiq (civilian worker at the GHQ), Rasheed Ahmed (civilian), Umar Rafiq (student) and Mubashir Mushtaq (student).
The funeral of the victims was offered in Rawalpindi later in the evening. Army chief General Raheel Sharif and a large number of senior military officials, relatives of the dead and local residents offered the funeral prayers.