LAHORE: At least 72 people were killed in a suicide blast that took place in Lahore’s crowded Gulshan-i-Iqbal park on Sunday evening, police confirmed on Monday. At least 300 others were injured.
Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Operations Dr Haider Ashraf said the death toll had risen to 72 on Monday.
In the wake of the attack, the Punjab government declared an emergency in Lahore and announced three days of mourning. Schools and markets were closed in the provincial capital on Monday.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar on Monday paid a visit to the injured admitted to Jinnah Hospital for treatment.
PM Nawaz also chaired a meeting at Prime Minister House to review the security situation in Lahore. The prime minister was briefed on the attack by his security advisers, a PM Office statement said, adding: “Key decisions to respond to the situation were taken and directions were issued.”
A First-Information Report was lodged by the Counter-Terrorism Department Lahore against four suspects under Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act and various sections of the Pakistan Penal Code.
The FIR claims four suspicious individuals were stopped at the gate of the park, one of whom got into the park and blew himself up. The other three, taking advantage of the rush at the scene, were able to slip away, it says.
The powerful blast ripped through a massively crowded area of the park adjacent to Gate 1 which houses swings, train and some other attractions for children.
Witnesses said the crowd included a large number of Christian families celebrating Easter, Dawn Newspaper reported.
Witnesses said the blast was so massive and fatal that there were pools of blood and scattered body parts in the park. The injured were seen crying for help and women running to find their children.
The incident raised a big question mark over the ‘security measures’ especially in the wake of terror threats.
Lahore CCPO retired Capt Amin Wains, quoting initial police inquiries, said the park was pathetically managed by the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) and its boundary walls – only four to five feet in height – were easily scalable.
He said the PHA management was responsible for frisking the visitors and 40 private guards were manning the recreational facility spanning over 2.5 km area for security.
He ruled out a security lapse on the part of police and said two mobile squads had been stationed at the main gate of the park.
Police investigate blast
DIG Operations Haider Ashraf said that at least 15 to 20 kg explosive material had been used by the suicide bomber. He said that police found the ‘skull’ of the suspect from the blast site and sent it for forensic analysis.
To a question about the motive behind the terrorism, he said it would be premature to say anything at this stage. “However, the terrorist hit a very soft target of women and children,” he said.
An identity card police found from the site of the blast may be of the alleged suicide bomber.
The DIG Operations said that according to initial inquiry, Yousuf, a young man from Muzaffargarh, might be the bomber.
He said four friends of Yousuf had been detained by Muzaffargarh police from Basti Sohrani for questioning.
A witness, who was running a stall near the blast site, told reporters that a suspect aged between 20 and 30 was seen roaming in the park. He said one of the security guards of the Park had questioned him for his presence and then left him unattended.
Sunday’s attack was claimed by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar, who also claimed last year’s twin suicide bombings at churches in Lahore’s Youhanabad area, which killed at least 15 people and sparked violent protests across the city.