Cacophonous carnage

Lahore was shaken and shattered on July 1, 2010, when the shrine of the patron saint of the subcontinent, Ali Hajveri Data Ganj Baksh, was attacked by two suicide bombers on Thursday. The resulting impact was clearly visible on the faces of all residents of ‘Data ki nagri’, Data’s city. It was a familiar site after the blasts outside the shrine’s complex, as endless decks and streams of frantic ambulances crowded the roads and lined along the pavement, awaiting orders.

Inside the shrine, shoes and clothes lay scattered on the floor. Complete pandemonium ensued, as the entire place smelt like a meat shop with body parts scattered on the ground, there was a murky layer of blood plastered on the marble floor, ugliness that would take weeks to clean, and many generations to forget.

Emergency officials scampered around the complex, screaming for more ambulances, as civil defence officials scavenged the remnants of the victims.

Officials rummaged and sifted through the rubble and filled cans full of ball bearings.

The Police also recovered remains of the suicide bombers.

Rescue 1122 and civil defence workers reached within 20 minutes of the blast. One could hear them calling out to each other, “Look, I found a watch, let’s send it to the morgue, it could help in identification purposes…”

Lahore’s violent and explosive past has trained them well. Barely a month ago, they were rescuing people from an attack on two Ahmaddiya worshipping places.

Thursday is the busiest night of the week as around 40-50,000 people frequent the shrine.

This Thursday it was no different, as the usual number of people settled themselves at the complex, unaware of the impending doom. They later drowned in a massive blood bath as a string of suicide attacks struck different parts of the complex.

CCTV footage clearly showed how the suicide bombers had penetrated the security gates. It showed bombers in their final moments before they blew themselves up. In the footage, a security guard at the shrine was seen chasing one of the bombers shortly before a huge blast, which sent crowds of panicked devotees fleeing in all directions. Salim Raza, a guard posted at an entry gate with a scanner, detected a suspicious man clad in a green turban, white robes and a shawl, carrying a bag. He ran after the suspected bomber who seconds later detonated his explosives, engulfing the site in a huge cloud of white smoke.

Entering through the same security gates later made one realise how two men wrecked the future of at least two hundred families, who had lost their brethren in the attacks. Doctors said they were expecting the death toll to rise, as the city’s main hospitals declared a state of emergency. Relatives poured into morgues and emergency wards to identify the survivors and victims.

Angry protesters waited in the darkness, building a mob around the complex, igniting whatever they could get their hands on. The Police were unable to control them, and resorted to firing to disperse the violent crowds, who had just damaged media vans and thrashed their employees for “lying to the masses” The firing caused further panic and confusion, as people ran in all directions.

Initial reports suggested the use of crackers/low intensity bombs, but as survivors ran for their lives leaving behind victims, it was clear that it was indeed a high grade bomb.

Data Darbar was the last place one could think of being attacked, but considering the fact that these terrorists wanted to cause maximum damage, using a carefully orchestrated attack strategy, it comes as no surprise.

Eye-witness at the shrine recalled the explosion as an intense one, and said that a majority of the victims were busy praying inside the complex.

A resident of Lahore said that they now had nowhere to go, as mosques and shrines were not safe anymore.

The lunger, which was stopped for the first time in history, was located in the basement, where volunteers were seen cooking large cauldrons of rice and vegetables in the past.

The Data Darbar administration stopped the distribution of free food among devotees, a tradition that has been a distinctive feature of the shrine for hundreds of years. “Free food was available 24 hours of the day for everyone, it had never been stopped under any circumstances,” said Jawad, a resident of Bhatti Gate area, a regular visitor. In addition to the devotees, free food was also a source of living for hundreds of labourers.”

Data Darbar Administrator Rao Fazalur Rahman, however, justified his decision to shut down the provision of free food. “The people associated with the preparation of lunger are in a state of shock,” he said, adding that lunger would be started as soon as the situation normalised.

The media carefully reported a lower death toll although from the blast site, it was evident that hundreds must have lost their lives.

The attack shut up those who still questioned whether these attackers were ‘Muslims’ or not, adding stead to the fact that all spheres of Muslim schools respected the Patron Saint of Lahore.

The Taliban were quick to deny and involvement and ‘condemned’ the attack, and ‘innocently’ announced that they never attacked ‘public places’…

It remains a mystery as to who did it, as no outfit has claimed responsibility till date.

The 3 day strike was widely followed, and traders estimated a business loss of Rs3 billion as all major markets and commercial shopping centres were shut. The loss of Rs3 billion did not include taxes and duties paid to the government.

“This is yet another blow for the city of Lahore. These bombings are further proof that there is only so much you can do to protect yourself. If someone is determined to blow themselves up, they will do it.” an official said.

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