Lahore: Over 5,000 people were rounded up by security forces since the Easter Sunday bombing here with more than 200 still in custody, Pakistan’s Punjab government said on Tuesday, even as Taliban militants behind the attack taunted the Prime Minister, saying the ‘war has reached his doorstep’. “In the past 24 hours, Punjab police had conducted 56 operations, the Counter Terrorism Department 16 and intelligence agencies in collaboration with the local police carried out 88 raids in different parts of the province and rounded up a total 5,221 people,” Punjab Province Law Minister Rana Sanaullah told a press conference here.
Of those detained, 5,005 have been released after ‘data verification’ while ‘over 200 suspects are in custody of the law enforcement agencies,’ he said. Talking about investigations into the Lahore attack, Sanaullah said a Joint Investigation Team headed by the SSP Counter Terrorism Department has been formed to probe the incident.
The Pakistan army had on Monday stated that it has launched a crackdown in Punjab on terrorists suspected to be involved in the Lahore attack at the Gulshan-i-Iqbal park that claimed 74 lives, mostly women and children, and injured over 300 others. The raids have been carried out on the basis of the technical evidence and initial information gathered by intelligence agencies in the aftermath of the bombing.
Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif has ordered the raids on hideouts of terrorists in the province. Intelligence agencies led operations, mostly in Lahore, Faisalabad, Multan, Muzzafargarh and some other districts of south Punjab, on seminaries and other targets linked to extremist and terror groups.
“Personnel of army and Rangers carried out the operations. A number of arrests were said to have been made in addition to recovery of arms and explosives,” military spokesman Lt Gen Asim Bajwa said.
“Several arrests made; operation to be spread across province. Operations will continue with more leads coming in,” he said. Meanwhile, the Pakistani Taliban faction, Jamaatul Ahrar, behind the bombing warned that the terror attack was a ‘message’ to the government about their ‘arrival’ in Punjab, as the death toll today rose to 74 after two more persons succumbed to their injuries.
The group’s spokesman even taunted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Twitter. “After the Lahore attack, Nawaz Sharif repeated old to give himself false assurances,” he wrote. “Nawaz Sharif should know that war has reached his doorstep, and God willing the Mujahideen will be the winners in this war,” the spokesman said. Sharif had on Monday vowed to eliminate terrorism.
A suicide bomber, believed to be in his 20s blew himself at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, which is one of the popular parks in Lahore, a relatively peaceful city in Pakistan. He struck at a time when thousands of people were visiting the park on account of Easter. In a post in Urdu on its Facebook page, the Jamaatul Ahrar group released the bomber’s photo, identifying him as Salahuddin Khorasani. The group had previously claimed responsibility for suicide bombings at two churches in Lahore in March 2015, and justified the attacks by terming Pakistan a ‘land of war’.
Sanaullah also dismissed the impression that the military and political leadership was not on the same page regarding the operation in Punjab. “The country’s political leadership, religious parties, opposition and the government are backing this crackdown,” the Minister said. “Operation will be taken jointly by all law enforcing agencies,” he said. Sanaullah also said that more than 15,000 seminaries had been geo-tagged. “The impression that no-go areas exist in Punjab is wrong.” Meanwhile, the Punjab Police faced embarrassment when the person they said was the bomber turned out to be a victim.
“We investigated but could not find any link of (the person) or members of his family with terrorists. He appeared to be one of the visitors at the park,” said a senior police officer on condition of anonymity. He said forensic experts were trying to ascertain the identity of a man whose skull was found from the blast site.
Lahore police have issued the sketch of the suspected Taliban suicide bomber. The picture released by the militant organisation and the sketch by Lahore police have not yet been confirmed to be of the same person