RAWALPINDI - At least 14 people, including six army personnel, were killed and 33 others injured, some of them critically, when a suicide bomber blew himself up Monday outside a restaurant in the T-Chowk of Royal Artillery (RA) Bazaar packed with military personnel, civilians and students in the morning hours.
The suicide hit comes only a day after a blast in the Bannu cantonment area which martyred at least 20 soldiers.
RA Bazaar is a residential and commercial locality closer to the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi. There are many other sensitive military installations such as FWO and NLC head offices located near the blast place.
The blast was so powerful that it damaged many shops, houses, motorcycles and cycles besides smashing windowpanes of buildings. Security forces cordoned off the area. The army was called in and they started collecting evidence immediately, while Rescue 1122 shifted the dead and the injured to the nearby hospitals – CMH and DHQ.
The bomber hit at 7:38am, according to an injured who was buying cigarettes from a general store.
Banned outfit Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in a message sent to the media, claimed responsibility for the blast within hours of the attack, stating it a revenge of the Operation Silence in Lal Masjid, Islamabad, in 2007.
SSP (Operations) Mian Maqbool, talking to The Nation, said it was a suicide attack in which a bomber detonated his explosive vest outside the restaurant in RA Bazaar, where many civilians and military personnel were having breakfast.
“Approximately, 5kg explosives were used in the suicide bombing,” Maqbool said and added military personnel, civilians and students were among the dead and injured. He said the body parts of the bomber had been recovered from the crime scene and sent for DNA test.
The police nabbed four suspects, including an injured, Zahir Khan, who was there under the guise of a garbage collector, the SSP said.
He said the police were investigating an injured whose bicycle laden with fruit, carrot and vegetable sacks was found lying a few meters from a military check-post near the FWO office. “We are probing whether he had any link with the suicide bomber because there was no garbage dump site located in the area. There is a possibility that he brought the bomber to T-Chowk and was injured because of the intensity of the blast,” the SSP added.
Sources in the security forces confirmed that a total of 14 people, including a woman, Sheela Bibi, were killed and 33 injured in the suicide bombing. The death toll is however feared to rise.
According to eyewitnesses and some of the injured, there was hustle and bustle in RA Bazaar because of office-goers, students and workers having breakfast or waiting for their vehicles to reach workplaces and schools/colleges when the suicide bomber struck.
Muhammad Khalid, an injured driver of a private company, said: “Something hit my ear and thigh, causing bleeding from my body. There was a thick smoke and hue and cry everywhere. I fainted and regained consciousness in hospital.”
Hassan Raza, an injured student of Swedish Institute at the DHQ and a resident of RA Bazaar, said he and his brother Raza-al-Mustafa were waiting on their bicycles for their friend Mubashir Mushtaq when, all of sudden, a big blast occurred and they fell on the ground. “The deafening sound damaged my eardrum. Screams were everywhere. I was told in the hospital that my friend Mubashir was killed in the blast.”
The road at the crime scene was littered with broken windowpanes, stones, iron pieces, human body parts and blood. The surrounding areas were full of police and army in the blast aftermath, and they did not allow anyone to get closer to the site. Traffic was diverted to substitute routes from Chungi No 22 and FWO Chowk.
According to Dr Khalid Abbas Janjua, director DHQ’s Accidents and Emergency Department, the hospital received four injured, Hassan Raza, Muhammad Khalid, Zahir Khan and Muhammad Bilal Alam, and five dead, Mubashir Mushtaq, Abid Hussain (technician at NLC), Muhammad Siddique (army personnel) and Muhammad Zubair Latif, a student.
The condition of the injured was stable while dead bodies had been handed over to their heirs after postmortem, he said and added rescuers had also brought to hospital two sacks full of human body parts for DNA tests.
A total of nine bodies were brought to CMH. They were identified as Naik Abid, Havaldar Asghar, Naik Imran, Naik Anwar, Naik Mustafa and Havaldar Akram, all posted at GHQ, Umer Rafiq of FG School RA Bazaar, Sepoy (r) Shaheen and Rasheed, a civilian.
The injured admitted to CMH were, later, identified as Havaldar Nadim, Gull Daraz and Jafar Hussain, and civilians – Abdur Rehman, Amir, Raza-al-Mustafa, Sheela Bibi, Javed, Najib Abbas, M Afzal, Fazal Abbas, Rafi Ullah, Nafis Ahmed, Munawar Zafar Iqbal, Ghazanfar Ali, M Aqil, Yousaf, Shaheen Anwar, Shahid Mehmood and an unknown person.
Punjab IGP Khan Baig visited the blast place. Later, he went to CMH to enquire after the injured. Talking to reporters, he said a case against the attackers would be registered by the RA Bazaar police. Later the case was registered.
PTI MPA Asif Mehmood condemned the blast and demanded the government take strict action against terrorists. The police are investigating the matter. The sources claimed the law enforcers picked up a suspect from Kashmir Lane. The bomb disposal squad prepared an initial inquiry report and sent it to the Punjab IGP, claiming up to 8kg explosive material was used in the attack.