Triple blow in a week: Massacre at Qissa Khawani

Sunday, September 29th, 2013 10:30:06 by

PESHAWAR: Peshawarites were still in mourning on Sunday for the wanton killing of 80-plus worshippers at an Anglican church last week when senseless murderers struck again. This time, however, their victims were innocent shoppers – men, women and children – at Peshawar’s fabled Qissa Khawani Bazaar.

The bombing capped one of the deadliest weeks in Pakistan’s decade-long fight against terrorism and extremism. Last Sunday, two suicide bombers attacked the All Saints Church compound and two days later a bus carrying government employees was bombed on the edge of Peshawar. In all, over 100 lives were lost in the two attacks.

At least 42 people – including 17 from the same family – were killed and 91 wounded when a massive car bomb tore through the crowded bazaar around 11:10am Sunday. The fatalities included seven women and eight children, some of them aged five to 12. Medics at the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) confirmed the casualty figure.

The car, a Toyota Corolla XLI, was parked outside a hotel. A police station is situated nearby. However, officials said it wasn’t the target. “It looks like the market was the target,” said Shafqat Malik, the AIG (Special Branch) and head of the Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS).

The blast caused widespread destruction in the historic bazaar which had already braved three vicious bombings in the past five years. Sunday’s explosion triggered a huge fire which gutted several shops. Around a dozen vehicles – auto rickshaws and motorcycles among them – were also destroyed.

“The car was rigged with around 200 kilos of homemade high explosives. Phosphorus was mixed with the explosives which triggered the fire,” AIG Malik said. “Artillery shells were also used in the device to inflict maximum casualties.”

The Express Tribune correspondent saw grisly scenes at the site. Severed human limbs, blood-soaked clothes and shoes littered the blood-splattered road. Wailing ambulances scurried to the market as rescuers sifted through the rubble of the toppled shops for victims.

A Suzuki pickup, with 21 people onboard, was also caught up in the explosion, killing all but three. All of them, according to officials, belonged to the same family. “There were men, women and children on the van. They had pulled up at a popular ice-cream parlour moments before the blast,” eyewitness Ayaz Khan told The Express Tribune. The pickup caught fire after the blast – and most victims were burnt alive.

The explosion pulled down the roof of the ice-cream parlour, briefly trapping staff and buyers underneath.

“Thick grey clouds engulfed the entire area. I couldn’t see anything for 15 minutes. When the smoke and dust settled I saw my uncle lying on the ground, motionless,” recalled Daud Khan, a helper at another eatery owned by his uncle Tayyab Pehlawan.  Later Daud was told at the hospital that his uncle was also dead.

“I was standing in front of the shop to buy ice cream for my ailing nephew who was with me when a deafening explosion rocked the entire area,” Muhammad Sajjad, who works in Saudi Arabia as a labourer, told AFP in the hospital. “The explosion was so intense that it threw me and my nephew a few metres, injuring both of us,” said Sajjad, who escaped with a minor head injury.

Muhammad Wajih, 40, said he was repairing a customer’s watch at his shop when there was a huge blast. “My customer, who was standing just in front of my shop, was killed when several stray splinters hit his back,” said Wajih, who was himself unhurt.

The casualties were driven to the LRH, where the hospital spokesperson, Jamil Shah, confirmed that 42 people were killed and 91 injured – some of them critically.

Weeping relatives tripped over the injured lying in the corridors of LRH as they searched for their loved ones while ambulances brought in bodies or small bundles of human remains. “My relative Riazwan is dead. My brother is injured while my two nephews are missing. We are looking for them,” Zahid Hussain told The Express Tribune.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the deadly blast. The outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) carried similar attacks in the past. However, TTP spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid told journalists in a phone call from an undisclosed location that his group did not carry out Sunday’s blast.

It was the fourth blast in Qissa Khawani Bazaar in the past five years, including two suicide attacks which left DSP Gulfat Hussain and SP Hilal Haider dead. Apart of that, there have been several blasts in the adjacent markets, including the one in Dhaki Nalbandi which had killed senior minister Bashir Bilour and the other in Dhaki Dalgaran which had left Peshawar police chief Malik Saad dead.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 30th, 2013.

Peshawar News Sources -2

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