LAHORE: Authorities investigating Wednesday’s suicide attack in the provincial metropolis believe the actual target was the provincial headquarters of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which gave strong resistance from inside the building but the blast was so powerful that it brought down part of it, killing a serving colonel, who was present in his office at the time of the attack.
Those investigating the assault say the attack was a hybrid operation, consisting of an armed attack by four gunmen and subsequent detonation of a car bomb. The terrorists accompanying the suicide bomber apparently wanted to penetrate the well-protected ISI
building. At least, four men with rifles first stepped out of the car and opened fire on security guards deployed outside the agency building. As the security personnel offered tough resistance by returning the fire, the attackers threw a hand grenade to pave the way for the car bomber to enter the ISI building.
As the firing intensified, the car bomber suddenly changed his direction and rammed his vehicle into the Rescue 15 office hardly a few yards away. Investigators say at least 100 kilograms of C4 explosives might have been used to carry out the deadly attack.
While the ISPR spokesman declined to speak on the martyrdom of a serving colonel in Wednesday’s attack, a senior interior ministry official confirmed on condition of anonymity that Lt-Col Mohammad Amir, a senior ISI official, was the victim of Wednesday’s attack.
An Army source in Lahore confirmed the death of Lt-Col Amir, adding his funeral prayers were offered at the Ayub stadium in Lahore on Wednesday night. He added another senior ISI official, Col Zulfiqar, also received injuries in the suicide attack and was in critical condition.
Those investigating Wednesday’s assault have firm view that it was a well-coordinated operation carried out jointly by the Punjabi Taliban belonging to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and the Pashtun Taliban associated with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The two proscribed sectarian and Jihadi organisations have already been found involved in several other terrorist attacks in various parts of Punjab, ranging from the September 20, 2008 Marriott suicide bombing in Islamabad to the March 30, 2009 Fidayeen-style attack on the Manawan police training academy in Lahore.
Investigators say there are clear indications that like many earlier incidents of suicide bombings in the Punjab, Wednesday’s assault might have also been planned jointly by Qari Hussain Mehsud, a close associate of the FBI’s most wanted TTP Amir Baitullah Mehsud, and Qari Mohammad Zafar, currently the chief operational commander of the LeJ.
Al-Qaeda-linked Qari Hussain, who is also known as “Ustad-e-Fidayeen” or the teacher of suicide bombers, is considered to be a specialist in indoctrinating teenagers to carry out suicide attacks in the name of Islam. He is believed to have become the main ideologue of the Taliban working under Baitullah Mehsud’s command. Qari Hussain is well-known in the TTP ranks for his strong anti-Shia views and his close ties with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). The agencies are trying to hunt him down since long given his status as the one who may have recruited and indoctrinated the largest number of people to carry out suicide attacks in the country.
Originally coming from Karachi, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s Qari Mohammad Zafar has become a trusted member of al-Qaeda’s hardline inner circle who enjoys the protection of Baitullah Mehsud and is believed to be hiding in the lawless South Waziristan. Authorities say Qari Zafar is not only the suspected mastermind of the September 20, 2008 Marriot Hotel suicide attack in Islamabad, but the most sought after al-Qaeda-linked terrorist who had been trying to target important strategic installations belonging to the ISI in the Punjab and Sindh.
Authorities pointed out on Jan 17, 2009, Qari Hussain had released an unusual video of statements from purported suicide bombers and footage of deadly attacks they claimed to have perpetrated in Pakistan.
The 40-minute tape had shown youths, some apparently in their teens, addressing the camera about their intention to carry out suicide attacks to background music of Urdu militant anthems. The said video was reportedly handed over to journalists in Peshawar by none other than Qari Hussain. All those featured in the video spoke Pashto. The two major suicide attacks claimed on the TTP video were the March 11, 2008 suicide attack on the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) building in Lahore and the Nov 24, 2007 twin suicide attacks in Faizabad area of Rawalpindi in front of the ISI headquarters when a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a bus carrying 35 ISI officers, killing 15 of them on the spot.
Although, no militant group has yet claimed responsibility for the Wednesday’s suicide attack, Interior Minister Rehman Malik seems sure about the involvement of Baitullah Mehsud. “The Lahore attack seems to be the reprisal for fresh Army operation in South Waziristan. Agencies had received threats from Baitullah Mehsud and his cronies to stop the military operation or face suicide attacks. And this seems to be the result of that warning,î Malik told reporters in Islamabad.