Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Twin bombings in Karachi target mourners

This story published on Dawn.com on Feb 5, 2010, was my first real close shave with death. I was at the hospital area when the second blast took place and only minutes before it went off I had interviewed the humanitarian Edhi at the exact sane spot it exploded. Everytime I think of this day I feel quite bewildered and lucky that nothing happened to me, at least physically. Unfortunately there were many young men like me who were not so fortunate and died in that senseless violence. Here's my report from that day which I had to do file asap following my own harrowing experience.  
Edhi just minutes before the second blast outside the Jinnah hospital in Karachi on Friday
Karachi:On Friday, an explosion in Karachi targeted Shia mourners on their way to a Chehlum procession. A second blast hit the main public hospital where causalities from the first blast were being taken. According to agencies, the latest death toll is 25, while nearly 100 people were wounded in the twin blasts. These attacks come just a month after a blast killed more than 30 people during an Ashura procession in the city on December 28,2009.
There was utter chaos at the scene of explosion on the Mohtarma Laig Begum Road which leads to the Justice Nizam Flyover just off Shahrae Faisal. The blast occurred at around 3:00 pm when an explosives-laden motorcycle reportedly hit a passenger bus carrying participants of the Anjumane Azaraan (Shia participants marking the Chehlum of Imam Hussain, a significant religious occasion). As police and Rangers took up positions to secure the area in the aftermath, a large number of Shia mourners reached the spot from M.A. Jinnah road where the main procession was taking place and started raising slogans against the authorities. The mourners, however, remained peaceful and there were no reports of rioting or looting.
Although eyewitnesses were unanimous in their view that explosives were mounted on a motorcycle which struck the bus as it passed by, some said they saw a bike rider chasing the bus which exploded on striking it. It was evident that the bus bore the brunt of the first attack and most casualties were the passengers sitting inside. However, the bus did not go up in flames. The steel structure was bent from many places outside and the glass windows were shattered. All that was left inside were bloodied slippers, shirt pieces and symbols of the Shia religious procession like small knives, the panja (hand palm sign) and cloth inscribed with verses.
About 100 meters away from the bus, a shop was partially damaged. It was there that Abbas was sitting by the roadside crying hysterically. “I was in the second bus coming right behind the one which was hit by the blast. My elder brother was on that bus…I think he’s dead,” he said.
The dead and injured were shifted to Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), which is only a few minutes away from the site of the first blast. Head of Emergency Unit, Dr. Seemi Jamali, confirmed that 12 people arrived dead, while over 50 persons were being treated for injuries.
At the hospital, in a repeat of the Ashura tragedy, enraged mourners marched into the emergency room chanting ‘Labaik Ya Hussain’ (I am here, Imam Hussain). They surrounded the dead bodies and beat their chests angrily.
A doctor on duty at the resuscitation unit informed that most of the injured had suffered bomb pellet wounds on the head, chest and limbs. There were no gunshot wounds.
Many of the injured were not in a position to talk. Most had just a name tag slip pasted on their sheets as doctors pierced drips into their arms and people thronged their beds hoping they were not their dear ones.
Middle-aged Zahoor was one such victim who was calling out in pain the names of his family members. Blood was still dripping out of Qaiser Abbas’s head and fingers. “I was in the bus,” was all he could utter when asked about the incident. Kazim, a young child of about six years, was crying for his mother. His face was bruised by shrapnel.
Thirty-year-old Ali Abbas was inconsolable. “I can’t find two of my brothers, Ahmed Abbas (23) and Nayyar Abbas (20). Both of them were on the bus.” Only a few minutes later, he was told that Ahmed was dead.
Asghar Ali, a man in his late twenties, was devastated. He was screaming in tears in a corner of the room where the dead bodies were kept. “My whole family has died today,” he said. “My paternal uncle, nephew and cousin are all among the dead,” he said, adding that their names were Anjum, Ali Raza and Qadir.
As tempers flared inside the unit, some doctors were scolded by the enraged people for not treating their injured quickly or adequately. “The people inside should understand that they are hampering our rescue efforts by barging in like this,” said one visibly harassed female doctor.
The philanthropist, Abdus Sattar Edhi, also reached JPMC to oversee the rescue efforts of his team of paramedics and ambulance drivers. He too tried to pacify the mourners, but in vain. “Why don’t our people understand that by coming in an emergency room like this, it becomes all the more difficult for doctors to save the lives of their loved ones. It is also not safe,” Edhi said.
Minutes later the second blast took place outside the main entrance of the emergency room. Paramedics were shifting the injured inside the hospital when the explosion took place just across the gate near an Edhi booth and ladies toilet. Ambulances and some motorcycles were places outside at the time of the incident. At least five people died on the spot, while at least a dozen others, including paramedics suffered injuries.
Mehmood, a paramedic for the CHIPPA service, had an emotional breakdown after the second blast. “My friend (and paramedic) had just crossed over to the ambulance parked on the other side when the blast took place. I wish it was me and not him. Why did they target us? We were just helping out others,” he cried.
Shahnawaz, a paramedic, said he carried the dead body of a teen-aged boy from the second blast site towards Civil Hospital (CH).
Paramedics lamented the fact that the route to the CH was blocked by the police for security reasons for the Chehlum procession and they were not let in despite the second blast that took place at Jinnah. “The police should have opened up at least one route so that the ambulances could reach Civil in the shortest time possible. But they didn’t listen to us. We instead had to go all the way up to Tower and go through narrow streets to reach the hospital. I think some of the injured from the second would have succumbed to their injuries because of this reason alone.”
Three dead bodies were brought to the CH till the filing of this report. Security was significantly beefed up at the hospital this time around and no one, including media persons were allowed inside the emergency unit.
Dr Shafiq-ur-Rahman informed on the phone that he was treating three critically injured patients in his operation theatre. He said most of the victims had wounds on their chest and that his team was trying their best to save them.
This was first published here.