Blast kills nineteen near Lal Masjid
Nineteen people - 18 policemen and one civilian - were killed and more than 40 injured in a suicide blast near a police station about 300 yards from the Lal Masjid in Pakistan's capital on Sunday, police and hospital sources said.
"Eight policemen were killed on the spot while 11 died in different hospitals," a senior police officer told IANS.
However, the interior ministry said in an official note that eight policemen were killed and 22 injured.
But a policeman present on the scene said more than 30 people were injured while the hospital sources put the number of the injured at 40.
According to a witness, a man under 20 years walked into a gathering of policemen at a tea stall near the Aabpara police station where they were having tea and snacks.
"Suddenly that man was blown up killing and injuring people standing nearby," said Majid Khan who was close to the scene of crime.
The news channels, however, gave different figures of the dead and the injured also gave different versions of the incident.
GEO TV quoting a witness said the suicide attacker was riding a car and drove into the group of the policemen that were on duty outside the police station.
The Dawn TV said the attacker just walked there into the group and blew himself.
The policemen on duty were seen in tears as they lost their colleagues.
"I went to the police station after ordering tea at the stall and as I was turning back I heard a huge blast and many of my colleagues were killed and many were screaming in pain," said a police officer.
A bomb disposal squad soon reached the site. "It was a suicide attack but it is difficult to say about the attacker's age as we are still looking for clues," one of the squad members told IANS.
According to information, reserve police personnel were targeted in the blast and the dead include policemen from Islamabad and Punjab. The toll is expected to mount considering the intensity of the blast.
A nationwide alert was sounded. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said all entry-exit points between Islamabad and the state have been sealed.
Muslim Khan, a spokesman for the local Taliban organization, immediately condemned the blast saying his group was not involved. "It was a reaction to last year's operation in the Lal Masjid," he said.
Security forces had surrounded the mosque July 3, 2007 following clashes between the police and the seminary students, who had abducted several women alleging them to be prostitutes and threatened music shop owners to give up the trade under an "anti-vice" campaign.
A week later military commandos stormed the mosque in a pre-dawn operation. According to the government, 100 people, including 12 soldiers, were killed in the action.
On Sunday a large number of religious leaders had gathered near the Lal Masjid to commemorate the first anniversary of the military operation.
In Sunday's gathering that was organized by Wafaqul Madaris (federation of religious schools), religious leaders, including some from the banned organizations, were present near the Lal Masjid and were discussing restarting religious school adjacent to the mosque.
"We strongly condemn this incident and let me say it is rather impossible to stop a suicide attacker," Rehman Malik, advisor to the prime minister, told IANS. He denied that it was a security lapse.
He said an immediate inquiry was ordered into the incident and police was put on high alert in the capital which is already considered a red alert zone.
President Pervez Musharraf, who was in Karachi to watch the final of the Asia Cup cricket tournament, also condemned the blast saying the government will not rest until an end is put to the terrorist activities.
Information Minister Sherry Rehman said the government was trying hard to control the terrorist activities and "we have already been able to reduce such acts by 80 percent".
She told mediapersons the terrorists will be dealt with an iron hand and no one will be allowed to play with the innocent peoples' lives.
However, other parties said it was a complete security failure and the government needs to tighten the security.
"This shows that the government has completely failed in protecting people. When policemen are being killed, we can imagine how the people of country would be feeling," former interior minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao told IANS.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz spokesman Sidiqul Farooq said it was a failure on part of the security agencies.