New Delhi: Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed's son, Talha Saeed, narrowly escaped assassination in a bombing on Lahore's fringes on Saturday evening, three Pakistani sources familiar with an ongoing investigation into the attack have told Firstpost. At least seven other Lashkar supporters were critically injured in the attack, the sources said, and one person killed.
The bombing, targeting a religious meeting at the Jamia Masjid Ali-o-Murtaza on Muhammad Ali Road in Lahore's Township neighbourhood, was earlier described by Pakistani as an accidental gas cylinder explosion.
But, one source familiar with the ongoing Punjab Police investigation, said the steel shutter on the air-conditioner repair store where the explosion took shows extensive shrapnel damage. "This kind of damage is typical of bombs packed with ball bearings," he said. "It also makes clear the shop was shuttered-up when the explosion took place."
Photographs taken inside the Jamia Masjid, obtained by Firstpost, also reveal damaged furniture and overturned tables.
Talha Saeed, a second source said, was waiting to speak at the religious meeting when the explosion occurred, even as another Lashkar preacher was addressing the gathering. He was treated for his injuries, the source said, at the Jinnah Hospital, a top Lahore facility, some five kilometres from the Ali-o-Murtaza mosque.
Police had said Hafiz Mahmood, a 22-year-old air-conditioning handyman, was killed in the explosion. Twenty-five-year old Ahsaan, 20-year-old Abdul Ghafoor 22-year-old Abu Bakr, 60-year-old Muhammad Afaq and 40-year-old Muhammad Aslam were also reported injured in the bombing.
Families of at least four other people, the second source said, had said their relatives were seriously injured in the assassination attempt.
The victims, a Lahore-based journalist said, were all supporters of the Lashkar-e-Taiba's parent organisation, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and regular visitors to the Ali-o-Murtaza mosque.
Local media, the journalist said, were instructed by police not to pursue the bombing story beyond the police account of events, nor to report Punjab Governor Mohammad Sarwar's visit to the bombing victims on Sunday. "The media climate in Pakistan is such these days," he said, referring to a string of attacks on journalists and newsrooms, "that it's wise to listen to such advice". "Lashkar spokespersons also called up to deny they were holding any gathering at all in the area," he added.
The bombing came hours after Lashkar chief Hafiz Saeed was produced a Lahore court to face terror-financing charges"his first prosecution for a terrorism-related criminal case. The case was, however, deferred to 11 December since police inexplicably failed to produce co-accused Malik Zafar Iqbal.
Islamabad has been under intense pressure from the Financial Action Task Force to shut down the financing of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and could face sanctions if it fails to meet criteria set down by the multinational organisation by early February.
Earlier this year, Pakistan petitioned the United Nations Security Council"which has blacklisted the Lashkar-e-Taiba for its links to Al Qaeda and the Taliban"to allow Hafiz Saeed to withdraw subsistence funds of ¹1.5 lakh a month from accounts frozen by authorities.
Lashkar leaders in Pakistan, one source said, have been divided on attributing the attack to hostile intelligence services, like India's Research and Analysis Wing, or to divisions within the organisation. Talha Saeed's designation as his father's successor and his control of Lashkar finances have angered senior leaders in the terrorist organisation, the source said.
"The fact that the Lashkar's usually very tight security was breached suggests all is not well in the organisation," said London-based scholar Ayesha Siddiqa, an expert on jihadist groups in the organisation. "It's obviously impossible to say who the perpetrator of the attack maybe, but it's clear all is not well within its hierarchy."