10 killed in suicide attack outside Sufi shrine in Pakistan's Lahore
Lahore: A teenage Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up outside one of Pakistan's oldest and most revered Sufi shrines in Lahore on Wednesday, killing at least 10 people, including five police commandos, and injuring 25 others as the country marks the Muslim holy month of Ramazan.
The powerful blast took place around 8:45 am (local time) outside Gate number 2 of the 11th-century Data Darbar shrine, the largest Sufi shrine in South Asia, where the elite police personnel were deployed for security, police said.
A CCTV footage showed that a teenage boy wearing black shalwar kameez and a suicide vest came closer to the vehicle of elite force and blew himself up.
"The suicide bomber is about 15 years old and made no suspected movement before blowing himself up," Lahore police spokesperson Syed Mubashir told PTI.
He said at least 10 people including five policemen were killed in the blast. Over 20 injured are being treated at the Mayo Hospital Lahore, of them the condition of six is said to be critical. He said two suspects have been taken into custody.
The Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JeA), a breakaway faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed the responsibility for the attack.
"We also heard that Jamaatul Ahrar had claimed the responsibility of the Lahore blast on social media but we can't confirm it before investigation," Mubashir said.
Punjab Inspector General Police Arif Nawaz told reporters that it was a suicide attack and the target was the vehicle of the elite force that was stationed outside the shrine of Sufi saint Ali Hajvari popularly known as Data Darbar.
He said the suicide bomber came closer to the police personnel vehicle and blew himself up, killing five of them and injuring four others critically. One security guard and three civilians are among the dead, he said.
The impact of the blast shattered the windows in nearby vehicles and buildings, local media reported. Television footage showed a number of damaged vehicles near the shrine.
Lahore Deputy Commissioner Saleha Saeed told the media that one of the dead bodies brought in to Mayo Hospital was that of the suspected attacker. "It was a suicide attack. Ball bearings were also used in the attack," she said.
Mayo Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Yar Muhammad put the death toll to nine. "We have received nine people including policemen dead. The condition of six injured is critical and doctors are trying their best to save their lives," he said.
Wednesday was the second day of Muslim holy month of Ramazan. The Data Darbar area is thickly populated and the shrine attracts thousands of visitors every day.
"I was performing my duty when I heard a powerful sound of the blast nearby. I rushed to the spot and found people in a pool of blood. I informed the police on emergency number and shifted two injured to Mayo Hospital," traffic police warden Rizwan Ahmed said.
Safia Bibi was to enter the shrine from the Gate 2 when the blast took place. She suffered injuries. At Mayo Hospital she told reporters that she came along with her daughter to take blessing of the Sufi saint.
"My daughter had entered the shrine while I was behind her when I heard a sound of powerful blast. I fainted and recovered my consciousness at the hospital and found my daughter sitting besides me. I am thankful to God that my daughter is safe," Safia said.
Prime Minister Imran Khan strongly condemned the attack and directed the Punjab government to provide all assistance to the injured and families of victims.
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar also condemned the attack and ordered an inquiry into the incident, summoning reports from the Punjab Inspector General of Police and the additional chief secretary of interior, according to a handout issued by the Punjab government.
Provincial Law Minister Basharat Raja said that the death toll may rise as some of the injured were in critical condition.
"We condemn this cowardly act," he said.
A rescue operation was conducted in the area before it was cordoned off for investigation. The shrine was evacuated, with devotees moved out through exits away from the blast site. Entry to the Data Darbar has since been restricted. Educational institutions near the shrine have been closed for Thursday.
Heavy contingent of police, Counter-Terrorism Department and forensic officials are collecting evidence from the site of the attack. The Inspector General of Police said police will share their findings once they conclude their probe.
All regional police officers and city police officers have been directed to examine security in their respective areas and remain alert during the month of Ramazan.
The Data Darbar shrine is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year.
In 2010, the shrine was targeted in a suicide attack that killed more than 40 people. Since then, the area has been increasingly hemmed in by heavy security, with visitors forced to pass through several layers of screening before they can enter the complex.