LAHORE - At least 30 people including four officials of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and 14 policemen were killed while over 300 injured, scores of them critically, in the deadliest attack that completely destroyed Rescue 15 building and partially damaged ISI headquarters on Wednesday morning.
The terror operation started at 10:21am and ended at 10:24 am and within these three minutes the attackers accomplished their task. Three terrorists also died in the shootout and the blast, the police officials said. It has been learnt that one ISI Colonel was also killed in the attack.
The incident took place in an area that had been declared high-security zone due to similar attacks on FIA headquarters and GPO Chowk in the recent past. The area where ISI and City police headquarters are located is also known for other important buildings like Chief Minister Secretariat, Governors House, Punjab Assembly, Wapda House etc.
According to police sources, three terrorists came on a Toyota Hiace from Regal Chowk side. They tried to drive the vehicle towards the building of the ISI but were stopped by the policemen for identification at the zigzag concrete barriers. One of the terrorists stepped out of the vehicle and opened fire on the policemen. Resultantly, a police constable and a pedestrian sustained multiple bullet injuries. A security guard of the ISI who was taking position at the rooftop, witnessed the scene, targeted the terrorist and injured him. In the meantime, another terrorist came out of the Toyota Hiace and opened indiscriminate fire on the policemen injuring all present there. He was also shot dead by the security guard of the sensitive agency.
The third terrorist who was riding the vehicle suddenly exploded it, the sources said. He, however, failed to cross the zigzag barriers due to stiff resistance of the sensitive agencies personnel and detonated his explosive-laden vehicle before hitting the ISI building. This was the first incident in which the ISI officials challenged the terrorists through a prompt action and killed two of them on the spot by retaliating the firing.
The sources revealed that no terrorist was arrested from the blast site. The police claim of arresting two suspects was baseless.
According to the FIR registered in the Civil Lines police station, the sensitive agency office was the target of the unknown terrorists who turned explosive-laden vehicle (Toyota Hiace) towards the building by crossing the barriers installed for security check near the Rescue 15 and ISI buildings.
The terrorists first opened firing on the security guards and then hurled a hand grenade, the sources added. Later, they detonated powerful explosive material.
The explosion was so powerful that it damaged dozens of other nearby buildings besides shattering windowpanes of scores of others, witnesses said.
Law enforcement agencies surrounded the building and Rescue workers started relief activities.
Around 140 kg highly explosive materials were used in the terrorists attack, Taimur Malik, a police official at the Civil Lines police station, said. However, a senior police officer seeking anonymity said that 600 kg explosive materials were used in the attack. Taimur termed it as one of the deadliest suicide attacks with high quantity of explosive material ever carried out in the country as 10 feet deep and 5 feet wide crater appeared at the site where explosive-laden vehicle was detonated.
A large number of Army personnel also responded to the emergency call besides scores of officials of other law enforcing agencies and Rescue 1122, Edhi, Fire Brigade Squad etc who immediately launched joint rescue operation.
They shifted the injured to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Mayo Hospital, Services Hospital and Jinnah Hospital. The bodies of three policemen were recovered from the rubble of the destroyed police building while 20 others died at the hospitals.
According to hospital sources, nine people including ISI Colonel Aamir Mirza Baig, 55, three other ISI officials, a police inspector Aakif Rauf who was incharge of Rescue 15 died at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. Four died at Services Hospital while 13 others died at Mayo Hospital.
Inspector General Police Punjab Tariq Saleem Dogar said that 30 people including 14 police officials lost their lives in the attack. The explosion left cars on the street mangled and bricks strewn dozens of yards (meters) in all directions. The ceilings of several operating rooms in a nearby hospital fell in, injuring 20 people.
How incident happened
The eyewitness and the injured police officials said that the terrorist exploded explosive-laden vehicle when the police officials tried to stop them at the barriers. A terrorist riding the Toyota Hiace tried to drive it towards the road leading to the main gate of the sensitive agencys building being used by executive officials. Finding strong resistance during exchange of fire, he was left with no other option but to hit the barrier, exploding the vehicle.
Seeking anonymity a traffic warden who was performing duty near the blast site, said that he noticed a white colour Toyota Hiace wagon coming from Regal Chowk with three men riding on it. He saw the Hiace driver who drove it towards the barriers outside the Rescue 15 building. He also saw two Toyota riders exchanging some words with the security policemen who stopped them for security concerns. He said that a few seconds after he witnessed two armed men who suddenly opened indiscriminate fire on the policemen and injured all six including two cops of Mohafiz Squad, standing there on an official motorbike.
He said that he ran towards the Lawrence Road leading to Regal Chowk. Soon after I ran towards some safe place, I heard massive exchange of fire followed by a powerful blast, he said. For a moment I was senseless, he said adding that after regaining senses, I thought better to stay away from the blast site as the bullets fired by policemen and terrorists were hitting the nearby walls and buildings.
An injured police constable Khawar said that he was leaving police residential quarters situated behind the Rescue 15 building when he heard massive firing, taking place outside the Rescue 15 building.
He saw his colleagues lying in a pool of blood while two young terrorists - one dressed in Shalwar Qameez and another wearing a white shirt and pants- opening firing on them. Meanwhile, he said he witnessed officials of sensitive agencies taking positions on the ISI building, who retaliated the firing and injured one of the terrorists. After a few seconds, he said, he heard gunfire from petrol pump side that showed that the terrorists were taking positions on different locations. Suddenly, he said, he also received a bullet on his leg and fell down.
Then suddenly a powerful blast occurred and he lost his senses.
A car rider Ahmad who was taken to the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital with minor injuries in his chest, said that he was waiting for green signal at the chowk when suddenly exchange of fire between unknown armed men and the officials positioning somewhere, took place. They were spraying bullets on each other, he added.
He said that he also witnessed three other unknown men armed with weapons running towards Lawrence Road from petrol pump side and firing at the Rescue 15 building.
To a question, he said he was not sure but apparently it seems that they were riding a cultus car, parked outside the petrol pump.
When explosion happened, everything went dark in front of my eyes, witness Juanid Mughal said. The way the blast happened, then gunfire, it looked as if there was a battle going on, he said.
SHO Civil Lines Taimur Malik said he was preparing at his office to go on a law and order duty at Regal Chowk when he suddenly heard massive firing. The first idea came to his mind was of the terrorists attack on CCPO office. He picked up his pistol and asked the policemen to follow him. As he came on the road, a powerful blast took place. The blast was so huge and powerful that he lost his balance and fell down a few feet away. He escaped unhurt luckily, as a car moving slowly also turned turtle due to intensity of the explosion. He said he had never heard or witnessed such a huge explosion during his entire service in police department.
About the terrorists attack, he said five to six miscreants took part in the deadly attack. He said only the part he managed to pick up from the blast site was the chassis number of the white Toyota Hiace which is FJK 5008511. The SHO said during preliminary investigation, it appeared that the said number was not registered in any government department concerned in the country. Apparently it seems that the Toyota Hiace used in the attack was smuggled from abroad by the terrorists, he said.
To another question, he said three terrorists who came on the Toyota Hiace first opened firing on the policemen deputed at barriers injuring all of them.
On finding retaliation from the officials of the sensitive agencies, the driver of the said vehicle tried to take it towards the building of the sensitive agency and then exploded it on the road due to cement blocks.
He also revealed that some three to four armed men who were taking positions in a cultus car also opened firing to give cover to their accomplices.
Bomb Disposal Squad feared massive damages and as many causalities due to large quantity of explosives used in the blast. He said a case has been registered against the unknown terrorists under Sections 302, 324 of PPC and 3/4 of Explosive Act and 7ATA.
AFP adds: All of a sudden there was firing and a huge blast. The wall collapsed on me. I was trapped in the wreckage and fell unconscious, said an elderly man, plucked from the rubble.
One of those lucky enough to be rescued from the remains of a police building in the security heartland of Lahore - lying in hospital he remembered the van racing towards the offices, then gunshots, then the explosion.
Rescue workers and passers-by - their clothing stained with blood - clawed with bare hands at rubble and twisted metal desperately trying to free dozens of people buried alive when a suicide car bomb flattened the building.
They carried the wounded on their backs and on stretchers, stumbling over piles of bricks, twisted iron bars and severed human limbs as they rushed them to hospitals, which officials said were treating around 300 wounded.
The building, where police were on duty responding to distress calls, was devastated and the impact of the attack, which witnesses likened to being in an earthquake, shattered windows and toppled concrete blast barriers.
Police official Mohammad Yaseen said he was driving a motorbike when he was flung to the ground with shrapnel injuries. A huge bang rocked the entire area... I was hit by flying objects like glass shrapnel. I fell to the ground. I recovered and saw thick black smoke billowing. There were lots of shouts and cries, he said.
One man in a traditional white shirt was buried up to his waist in debris, as volunteers desperately threw aside bricks and rubble in a bid to free him, television footage showed.
Policemen staggered from the devastated building in the heart of the cultural capital, worried for scores of their colleagues still trapped.
I heard firing and then a huge blast, said one, saying there were 30 to 35 policemen trapped inside. The building collapsed. I was at the back of the building and am fortunately alive.
Ambulances rushed to the scene and a large crane shifted mounds of debris.
Another police officer, too panicked to give his name, said he rushed out of the building when he heard 20 shots ring out. We came out to see it, then they hurled a grenade and all of a sudden a vehicle exploded, he told reporters.
Windows of the nearby buildings and houses were shattered - over a dozen vehicles were destroyed... It was a huge blast which created a 15-foot deep and 17-foot wide crater.
The bomb hit one of the busiest junctions of Lahore and its impact was felt up to two kilometres away.
I heard a loud bang. The window panes moved as if in an earthquake, said Mohammad Faisal, a shopkeeper who suffered minor shrapnel cuts.
I was on the third floor and ran down the stairs. The building seemed to shake for several seconds.
As armed police secured the area, flattened cars and rows of charred motorcycles lay on their sides and power cables littered the roads.