* Bomber targeted groups of over 50 policemen near Melody Market
* Rehman Malik says attacker appeared to be 35-37 years old
* Lal Masjid spokesman condemns attack
By Imran Naeem Ahmad and Fazal Sher/Agencies
ISLAMABAD: A suicide bomber on Sunday killed 19 people in an attack targeting policemen deployed at a rally observing the first year anniversary of an army raid on the capital’s Lal Masjid.
Dozens of dead and injured policemen lay on the ground in pools of blood after the blast — which occurred at 7.50pm at Melody Market, about one-and-a-half kilometres from the Lal Masjid — their blue uniforms ripped to shreds by the force of the explosion, an AFP photographer at the scene said. “The whole event at the mosque went smoothly but then the suicide bomber targeted the security,” Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior Rehman Malik told reporters at the scene of the latest apparent revenge attack for the storming of the building. He said it was not a security lapse, as the blast occurred after the culmination of the rally. Of the 19 dead, 15 have been identified as policemen. According to AFP, the blast targeted a group of over 50 policemen and over 20 cops were wounded in addition to the dead.d.A policeman at the Aabpara Police Station told Daily Times that the explosion occurred after one an inspector had finished a count of the cops inside the compound. The police station is only a few yards from the blast site.
“A young man walked into the police contingent and apparently blew himself up,” a senior security official told AFP on condition of anonymity. “The blast happened 15 minutes after the protest rally dispersed. A heavy contingent of police was at a main crossing several hundred metres from the mosque and they were targeted in the attack,” he added. After the blast, a traffic intersection in the area was splattered with blood. Body parts were scattered as far as 50 metres from the scene. Shattered glass also covered the area, Reuters reported. Television footage showed bearded students running towards the scene and ambulances bringing the wounded to hospitals.
“We were playing cricket in a nearby park when we heard a blast. There were several policemen on the ground,” witness Shaqeel Ahmed told AFP.
Attacker age: Rehman Malik said that based on eyewitness accounts, the attacker was a man appearing to be “35-37-years-old”. He said police have found the “upper part” of the bomber’s body but did not give more specifics. He said the nation has to think on “who is destabilising our country” and take action, AP reported. “We have to take them out from our ranks,” he said. “We have to combat them.”
Malik also said that a joint investigation team had been constituted to probe into the attack. Condemning the blast, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani ordered an inquiry, state media said. “Such incidents are against the teachings of Islam and do not serve any purpose,” it quoted him as saying.
Imtiaz Khan, the casualty medical officer at Federal Government Services Hospital, said at least 36 injured people were admitted there, nearly all security officials. He said two had died, while 12 were in critical condition.
Denounced: Meanwhile, Muhammad Amir Siddiq, a spokesman for the Lal Masjid, denounced the suicide attack and said he was not aware if any of those at the anniversary gathering were wounded. However, a member of the committee that organised the protest told AFP that none of the Islamic leaders involved in the protest was killed or injured.
“This is a very tragic and condemnable incident,” Siddiq told AP. He said the mosque held prayers for victims of the bombing after regular evening prayers. Interior Ministry Secretary Kamal Shah denied that the bombing was a result of poor security at the rally, during which many attendees called for the imposition of Shariah law in the country. Security arrangements made for the anniversary ceremony were “absolutely comprehensive,” Shah said, adding, “Nothing happened to the participants of the gathering.”
Additional Deputy Commissioner Islamabad Rana Akbar Hayat confirmed to journalists that initial evidence suggested that the police had been targeted. He said that over 4,000 security personnel had been deployed for the occasion.
The explosion followed recent threats of revenge from militants in FATA angered by a paramilitary operation against insurgents in the Khyber Agency, AP reported. It occurred just over a month after a suicide attack outside the Danish embassy that resulted in eight deaths.
Government forces besieged the Lal Masjid on July 3, 2007, after its administration launched an vigilante campaign in the capital and kidnapped several Chinese nationals. The storming of the mosque came on July 10, 2008 and sparked a wave of suicide attacks across the country, blamed on Al Qaeda and Taliban militants.
Earlier on Sunday, madrassa students from across the country thronged outside the Lal Masjid amid tight security by thousands of police who erected barbed wire barricades and spot-searched individuals.
Source: Daily Times, 7/7/2008