Friday, January 11, 2008

Courting death.

Here in the UK we can have meetings, the occasional demonstration and these are very often met with a strong Police presence. We put up with restrictions from our Police forces as they stand there blocking our paths, often dressed in riot gear. Afterwards we have a good moan on the internet about Britain becoming a Police state.

In Lahore, Pakistan - they also have meetings and demonstrations which are met with Police in riot gear. A suicide bomber killed at least 24 people and injured 70 others in the first major attack since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto two weeks ago.

This attack, which claimed the lives of 15 policemen, took place outside the High Court in Lahore minutes before a weekly anti-government demonstration led by lawyers was set to pass by. Witnesses said the bomber, aged about 25, walked from a motorbike towards the policemen and blew himself up.

"There were about 60 to 70 police on duty when a man rammed into our ranks and there was a huge explosion," said Syed Imtiaz Hussain, a police officer, who suffered leg injuries. "I saw the bodies of other policemen burning. It was like hell."

Large numbers of policemen had been deployed ahead of the planned demonstration against President Pervez Musharraf's sacking of independent-minded judges during the imposition of a state of emergency two months ago. At the time of the attack, more than 200 lawyers and activists were a hundred yards away, listening to speeches.

"I have not heard such a big explosion in my life. We felt as if our eardrums were about to burst," Abdul Hameed, a lawyer's assistant told the Associated Press.

Another witness, Salman Raja, a constitutional lawyer, said: "I was about to enter the high court gate... just 25 yards from the site of the blast. I saw policemen fall down immediately, there was a huge blast. We were about to move and enter the gate. The policemen fell down and collapsed on the road, then the cars jammed up, people were getting out and running away in fear of a second blast. There was no way to move from there safely, after all, a second blast could have happened anywhere."

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the attack but suspicions are likely to fall on Islamist militants linked to Taliban and al-Qa'ida elements based in the lawless tribal belt along the Afghan border.

The bomber’s severed head was found some 30 metres away from the site of the bombing, in an alley separating the High Court buildings from the Supreme Court’s Lahore Registry, a security official told Dawn.

“One side of the head of the bomber, who had shoulder-length hair, was damaged.”

Bodies and limbs of the victims were scattered all around the place and even adjacent buildings were affected.

Doctors said that condition of most of the injured was serious.

Badly damaged cars, vans, trucks, motorcycles and rickshaws lay on the busy Allah Bux Road, which leads to the Auditor General’s office from the Mall.

“The sound of the blast shattered the front screen of my van before I could pull it over,” said Mohammad Fayyaz, the injured driver of a passenger van.

It took police two hours to cordon off the entire area. The suicide bombing coincided with the start of a lawyers’ rally. The lawyers had just come out of the Aiwan-i-Adl, on the Lower Mall, to join their peers at the High Court and were only metres away from the scene of the crime when the explosion happened.

Malik Iqbal, a deputy inspector general of police, told reporters that the bomber, who had a few days’ stubble, was wearing a track suit.

He said plastic surgeons at the King Edward Medical University had reconstructed the head of the bomber partially and were still working on it.

A constable admitted to the Services Hospital said the blast occurred when a police official was trying to remove a white Suzuki car parked near the place where police had been deployed.

“We don’t let anyone park a vehicle near us. As soon as the official tried to open the door, the blast occurred,” the constable said.

“We all fell on the road. I could not move my limbs. When I turned my head, I saw one of my colleagues badly burnt.”

Aftab Cheema, SSP Operations, said the bomber had a 14-kg explosive device, with three kilograms of ball bearings, strapped to his body. He said the size of the ball bearings was larger than the ones used in earlier blasts.

’’A man rammed into our ranks and soon after there was a huge explosion,” said policeman Syed Imtiaz Hussain, who suffered wounds in his legs and groin.

“I saw the bodies of other policemen burning. It was like hell.’’

“It was a very loud blast. I was one of the first who rushed out of the court and saw a man bleeding from his nose and mouth. He died minutes later,” said lawyer Khurram Latif Khosa.

“I saw about 50 to 60 injured policemen, bleeding, scattered everywhere. They were asking for water.”

After visiting the blast site, the Inspector-General of Punjab Police, Nasim Ahmed, said the target was the police force.

“Today’s bombing was to demoralise the Punjab police, but it will not. They have given their lives while performing duty.”

“There was a huge bang,” recalled Munrian Bibi, 60, a school cleaner who was injured as she headed home from work. “I saw people falling on the ground crying for help. I don’t know what saved my life from that hell,” she said in hospital where she was being treated for leg injuries.

Police constable Jameel Ahmed said the attacker was a man aged about 25 who had arrived outside the court on a motorbike.

...This whole tale makes shocking reading. It always impressed me when I saw on television these lawyers demonstrating. They were always smartly dressed in suits and ties. Their demonstration was always respectable and well behaved. They were a credit to their profession and their country. Most demonstrations in other countries are a rally with a crowd of badly dressed scruffy merchants. The Pakistani demonstrators were a class apart but this week their demonstration became a bloody mess. The boldness of the suicide attacker getting off a motorcycle and walking into a troop of riot Police before releasing his arsenal really shocked me. Riot Police can be very intimidating to the public who pay their wages but in Lahore this week the tables were clearly turned.
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