The Lahore suicide bombing attack reportedly occurred at 17:30 (local time) along Ferozepur Road, in the vicinity of the Arfa Karim Tower and one kilometer away from the Punjab Province Chief Minister’s house, where he was holding a meeting at the time. At least 26 people were killed and 53 others injured, including police officers and civilians.
The city administration declared an emergency in hospitals and appealed for blood donations. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the motorcycle that the attacker used to arrive at the scene was registered to a resident of the Faisal Town area of the city. Approximately one hour after the incident, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s central spokesman Mohammad Khurrassani claimed responsibility for the bombing through an email, declaring it a suicide attack.
The attack targeted a group of police officers that were deployed to clear street vendors from the area, which has since been cordoned off by a heavy contingent of security forces and the section of the road sealed. The road serves as the main link between Lahore and Kasur and is a busy thoroughfare, with Lahore’s Metro Bus also passing through.
Earlier on July 24, at least 24 people killed and 42 injured in a suicide car bomb attack in Kabul that was quickly claimed by the Taliban. Meanwhile, on April 5 four security personnel and two civilians were killed in a TTP-claimed suicide attack against census workers and their military escort along Bedian Road, while its splinter group, Jamaatul Ahrar (TTP-JA), claimed a suicide attack outside the Punjab Assembly on February 13 that resulted in the death of 13 people. On July 10, the US State Department and UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) both issued advisory warnings of a heightened threat of militant attacks in Lahore has been targeted in a series of blasts over the past year.
Attack highlights TTP influence in Punjab, possible increased cooperation with Afghanistan Taliban
While groups like the Islamic State continue to operate in more peripheral areas of the country, especially in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, the TTP and its offshoot TTP-JA remain the only militant groups that have demonstrated the consistent capability to carry out large-scale attacks in Lahore, likely due to the strong influence the group is believed to possess in Islamist schools throughout Punjab, especially in the province’s southern regions. This is evidenced by the fact that the perpetrator of the attack was likely a Lahore native, given that the motorcycle was registered to a local.
Furthermore, the group almost exclusively targets security forces and tends to issue claims of responsibility within hours of attacks, consistent with the victims of today’s attack and the rapid claim of responsibility. In this context, the claim is most likely credible and further highlights the group’s position as the dominant militant group in the Punjab Province.
The TTP is loosely allied with Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents but focuses primarily on targeting Pakistani government officials. Both groups maintain a modus operandi which seeks to carry out successive attacks in a relatively short time span. The fact that the Lahore attack immediately followed the large-scale bombing in Kabul seems to suggest a degree of coordination and thus increasing cooperation between the two groups. The FCO and US State Department Warnings, issued just two weeks before today’s bombing, suggest that the threat of attack was, in fact, imminent and underscores security forces’ inability to hamper such movements, despite credible intelligence revealed by Western foreign ministries that suggested it would likely take place.
Attack highlights consistent vulnerabilities in security apparatus, likely to compel uptick in anti-militancy raids, protests in coming days
FORECAST: Given reports of a significant shortage of available blood in the hospitals that the victims were sent to, casualties are likely to significantly inflate in the coming hours and days. This is liable to fuel criticism by opposition groups and locals, which may allege that emergency response authorities are not adequately adapting to the growing threat of attacks in the city. Protests are liable to take place throughout the city over the coming days, both in solidarity with the victims and in condemnation of the government’s inability to thwart and adequately respond to the attack, similar to the protests that took place in the day following the February 13 attack.
Security and emergency personnel are already reportedly on the scene, but the extent of damage and cause are yet to be ascertained, meaning that a significantly bolstered security force is liable to remain in the area throughout the evening and into July 25. Keeping in mind the reports of road closures in the vicinity, many local businesses and major roads are likely to remain closed and severe traffic congestion is liable to be reported throughout the area as well as in the adjacent city of Kasur.
FORECAST: Following the recent attack on April 5, security authorities carried out a large-scale, anti-militant operation at the Punjab Housing Society in the city, just 10 days later, on April 15. Given this past precedent and in a likely attempt by the government to project an offensive posture following the most recent blast, an uptick in anti-militant raids in the city targeting Madrasas allegedly sympathetic to TTP is likely to occur. Attacks may also center on Faisal Town, where the owner of the motorcycle used in the attack is believed to reside.
We advise against all nonessential travel to Pakistan given the heightened threat of militant attacks, criminality, kidnappings and sectarian tensions throughout the country. Those operating or residing in Lahore are advised to avoid nonessential travel to the Afra Karim Tower and its environs given the recent attack and reported heavy security deployments. Further, those operating throughout the city are advised to maintain heightened vigilance for the remainder of July 24 given the latent potential for copycat or repeat attacks. If transiting through the city as well as the adjacent, we advise to allot for significant disruption to traffic and business continuity, especially in the vicinity of Ferozepur Road.