Large police contingents had just returned to their stations after peaceful dispersal of the Muharram procession when a huge blast rocked the city at 6:45 pm. Eyewitnesses told The News that security volunteers at the entrance of the Imambargah Mirza Qasim became suspicious of a youth who was wearing black clothes. When they tried to stop him, he ran away towards the hall where a large number of people were still present.
"A few persons shouted to alert the others about the suicide bomber, but the terrorist blew himself up, giving no time to the people," they added.
"I shouted to alert the people about the presence of the suicide bomber when I became suspicious of an 18-year-old clean shaven boy, who had moustaches. My shouts could not be heard. Suddenly, the bomber raised his arms and explosives around his body went off with a deafening sound," a woman mourner, Nusrat, told newspersons.
There were unconfirmed reports that the bomber had fired a shot from his pistol at a security man before detonating his explosive vest.
"Though it is not confirmed, there are some reports that he had fired a shot at a security man after which people started shouting and he immediately blew himself up," Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Operations, Syed Imtiaz Shah, told The News. The officer confirmed the death of only eight people.
"Twelve people, including the suicide bomber, have been killed while around 20 others were wounded, four of them critically," sources at the Emergency Department of the Lady Reading Hospital told The News. Ambulances of Edhi Foundation rushed to the spot soon after the blast to carry the injured to hospital. Soon after the blast, rain started, hampering the rescue operation.
Those killed included Mirza Waqar, Lala Nazar, Mohammad Sardar, Alamdar Hussain and a minor Bilal. Alamdar was a member of the police musical band and was not on duty at the time of the incident. The rest of the bodies were disfigured beyond recognition.
Among the injured are two lady constables, Rozina and Zainab, while others are Shahadat Ali, Suleman, Durre Bahadur, Shahnawaz, Waqar Hussain, Ali Haider, Asif and Abdul Karim. A number of women clashed with the policemen when they arrived at the scene of the blast for not providing security to them. A DSP and his men were also thrashed.
A bomb hoax created panic among the people outside the emergency block of the Lady Reading Hospital, who were there to inquire about their loved ones or to donate blood. A suicide bomber had killed 16 persons including two senior police officers in a suicide attack on the seventh of Muharram around the same time last year. The spot that time, however, was Dhaki Dalgaran, hardly a few hundred meters away from Thursday’s scene.
While keeping in view last year’s incident, the police had sealed off Qissa Khwani, Jehangirpura, Kohati, Kochi Bazaar, Dhaki Dalgaran, Mohallah Jhangi and some other parts of the city and there was a curfew-like situation ahead of the procession.
Shops were forcibly closed and the public was not allowed to roam around. All the streets linking the routes of the procession were blocked and cops deployed at their entrances did not allow any movement.
"The police contingents had just left after the procession ended peacefully," SSP Operations said when asked as to how a bomber managed to deceive thousands of cops deployed for security around the Imambargah. Replying to another question, the official said that there were no threats for the specific day.
Rejecting rumors of deployment of Army at Imambargahs, Syed Imtiaz Shah stressed the police would itself take all the security measures for the coming three days of Muharram. It has been learnt that the entire interior city is likely to be sealed from today (Friday) to avoid terrorist attacks till the 10th of Muharram. Even after extraordinary security arrangements, Peshawar still remains in the grip of fear and terror.