ISLAMABAD: Gunmen burst into a courthouse complex in the heart of federal capital on Monday, spraying bullets at everyone, hurling hand grenades and later exploding their suicide vests. At least 11 people, including a senior judge, were killed and another 25 injured in the early morning strike, in a severe blow to the already stalled peace process with Taliban that was likely to see light of the day after both sides agreed to ceasefire just a day earlier.
Taliban were quick to distance themselves not only from the attack in Islamabad’s main court complex in F-8 Markaz but also a separate bombing in Khyber tribal region which killed two soldiers.
“We have already declared a ceasefire and we strictly adhere to our deal with the government. Our colleagues in the organisation also cannot violate this agreement,” Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said. He added that some ‘mujahideen groups’ or ‘agencies’ could be involved in the terrorist activity.
Asad Mansoor, a purported spokesperson for the lesser-known TTP splinter group Ahrarul Hind, phoned several media organisations and claimed responsibility for the attack. He claimed that judicial system in the country was ‘un-Islamic’ and that they would continue their ‘struggle’ till enforcement of Sharia law.
“The casualty count is 36. Eleven of them were dead on arrival while 25 were brought wounded,” spokeswoman for the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) Ayesha Isani told media outside the hospital.
Inspector General of Islamabad Police Sikandar Hayat told media that the attack started around 9:00 am. He said two gunmen entered the katcheri premises, opened indiscriminate fire, threw hand grenades and then blew themselves up in the courtroom of Additional District and Sessions Judge Rafaqat Awan.
Awan had last year rejected a plea to order a murder case against General (r) Pervez Musharraf for authorising Lal Masjid operation back in 2007. However, it was not immediately clear if judge was the intended target of the attack.
Eyewitnesses said the attackers were armed with automatic weapons, including Kalashnikovs and hand grenades hidden under the shawls they were covered with. They were wearing shalwar kameez, bearded and had long hair.
Search operation continued until several hours after the attack, however total number of assailants remained shrouded in mystery. Some reports said only two attackers were involved in the attack, who later exploded their suicide jackets when confronted by the policemen. One of the attackers reportedly entered the courtroom of Sessions Judge Rafaqat Hussain where a hearing had just started, fired bullets at him and exploded himself when policemen on duty challenged him. The judge was killed on the spot. The other attacker blew himself up outside the chamber of a lawyer leader, after killing and wounding scores of people with gunfire.
However, some eyewitnesses were of the view that at least three of their companions fled in jeeps as fresh contingents of police arrived.
Police cordoned off the area after the blasts and commandos launched an extensive search operation, fearing some of the attackers might be hiding anywhere in the premises. Operations returned to normal hours later as police declared the area clear of any suspected terrorists.
Pools of blood, charred body parts and broken glass scattered everywhere in the courtroom, chambers of the lawyers and the site of the suicide blast.
One policeman and a woman lawyer were also killed in the attack.
It was the deadliest attack in the capital since September 2008 when a truck bomb killed 60 people at a five-star hotel.
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