ISI provincial headquarters the target
ISLAMABAD: At least 23 people were killed and nearly 300 injured in a powerful blast caused by an explosives-packed van at the police offices next to the provincial headquarters of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Lahore city on Wednesday.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the bombing was in retaliation for the ongoing military operation in Swat. But he asserted that the operation would continue, as the only other option was to “hand over the country to the terrorists.”
This is the third terrorist attack this year in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province. The first was an attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team on March 3; the second attack came within a month on a police training school in Manawan, on the outskirts of Lahore.
The attacks have also raised questions about the role of Punjab-based militant groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Toiba, and their reported nexus with the Pakistani Taliban.
At least half of those who died in Wednesday’s attack were policemen. The condition of several of the injured was stated to be critical. After the blast the police caught two men from the area and took them away for their suspected involvement.
At the time of the attack, around 10.25 a.m., the Lahore High Court, located about 2 km away, was hearing Jamat-ud-dawa chief Hafeez Saeed’s petition against his arrest. The case was adjourned to May 30.
The ISI office may have been the target. Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said it was a suicide bombing carried out by an undetermined number of attackers who came in the van.
The van stopped at a security checkpoint before the police and intelligence offices on Fatima Jinnah Road, off the city’s well-known Mall Road, a stone’s throw from the Punjab Assembly buildings. Two men alighted, Mr. Sanaullah said — eyewitnesses said there were four of them — and fired at the guards manning the barrier. Unconfirmed reports said guards in the ISI building fired back. The van crashed through the barrier and exploded outside the headquarters of Rescue 15, a police emergency service located next to the office of the ISI.
The blast, which the police estimated was caused by 100 kg of explosives, reduced the Rescue 15 building to rubble. Part of the ISI office, and the office of the Lahore Police Commissioner, were damaged. A petroleum outlet was gutted.
Television showed footage of horrific damage, with policemen trying to crawl out of the rubble. Efforts were on until late in the day to trace people, injured or dead, under the rubble.