22 Shias massacred in Lahore,Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claims responsibility

LAHORE Jan 11, 1998: At least 22 people were killed and another 50 injured when three unidentified gunmen unleashed a hail of bullets on a big gathering of Shias at Mominpura graveyard, Mcleod Road, on Sunday morning.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has accepted the responsibility for the terrorist attack in Mominpura, Lahore in which 22 people have been killed and many injured and termed it a retaliation against the alleged murders in mosques and death of Qari Allah Wasaya. Meanwhile, leader of the Lashkar has warned that his group would evenge if Malik Ishaq or any of their other group member was harmed.

Among those killed were two boys and an old woman, Mayo H#ospital officials said, adding that eight women, two children, and 15 men were in critical condition in the hospital after receiving multiple bullet wounds. As the news of the brutal attack spread, hundreds of people took to the street, pelting stones at public property and burning tyres to register their outrage against what they said was an 'inept and inefficient government'.

Witnesses said the gunmen arrived at the scene in a red Suzuki jeep. They confirmed that the killers first shot dead Mohammad Siddique, a flower-stall owner, outside the graveyard before making their way inside on foot. One assailant remained at the gate while two others entered the graveyard where they massacred the hapless members of the assembly, who had absolutely no security cover. The assailants sprayed bullets in all directions as evidenced by the holes found on pillars, graves, and walls, while moving towards the veranda where the Majlis was being held.

Mominpura graveyard was left drenched with the blood of the innocent. Almost 250 people, including women and children, scrambled over the bodies that soon littered the scene, trying to hide from the sustained firing. Witnesses said the men remained inside the graveyard for about five minutes and fired around 400 bullets before managing to escape in their Suzuki jeep, which travelled in the direction of the Lahore Hotel.

Punjab Chief Minister's adviser for sports, Ali Agha, who was among the participants at the Majlis, rushed outside the graveyard and escaped safely from the scene when the firing started, witnesses said. A police guard, Ali Mohammad, and Ali Agha's official guard also fled.

The graveyard's 'Gorkan', Talib Hussain, said he was sitting at the flower-stall of his brother-in-law, Mohammad Siddique, when at around 8:30 am, three persons aged between 25-30 years approached them and shot Siddique dead. Talib said they also fired at him and a constable, Ali Mohammad, but both of them escaped injury. He said one of the assailants, having a small beard, remained outside the graveyard, while two clean-shaved men entered and shot and injured two persons sitting near the graveyard's entrance. The attackers then rushed towards the shed where the Majlis was being held, and shot and wounded every person along the way to the gathering at the Majlis, where they opened fire on the participants.

All the participants of the Majlis, including women and children and those who were reciting Holy Quran while sitting beside the graves of their dear-ones, ran for cover but the killers pursued them and shot at them as well. However, Allama Akhtar Abbas Najfi, who was about to address the meeting, hid behind a pillar. Witnesses saw one of the gunmen, wearing a Shalwar-Kameez and a black leather jacket, emptying a magazine and loaded another one. The police recovered two empty magazines and around 95 used bullet cartridges from the spot.

A nearby cycle-stand contractor, Liaquat Ali said he was parking a vehicle when he saw one of the three killers shoot and kill flower-seller Siddique, while police guard Ali Mohammad, and Siddique's brother-in-law, Talib Hussain managed to escape the shots fired at them by diving into a nearby room adjacent to the entrance. He said the attackers also fired at him, but he hid behind the vehicles parked there. Liaquat said two others, one old man named Karim Khan, an Afghan national who had cleaned the graves for many years, and Baba Fida, the graveyard's Mutawalli, died on the spot inside the graveyard.

Both the flower-stall owner, Mohammad Siddique, and Karim Khan, the grave cleaner were Sunnis. Another eyewitness, Haidar Hassan said he hid behind a grave when he saw the attackers entering the graveyard and firing as they came. He said the women and children were screaming while running in a bid to escape. Some women and children, holding Holy Quran in their hands, pleaded with the killers to spare them for God's sake, but the killers were unmoved by their petitions.

Some local youths, who were playing cricket in an adjacent street, said when they first heard the firing, they treated it as nothing exceptional. But when the firing continued, they said they rushed towards the main road to discover what was happening. They said they saw three youths firing in the air and running towards a vehicle parked beside the road. They said as the assailants' vehicle moved, two other persons riding trail-motorcycles, apparently escorting the killers' jeep, also left the scene. However, no other resident in the area was able to verify the youths' account of the escape.

Ali Hussain, who narrowly escaped the attack, cursed the government which, he said, was responsible for the incident. He said the police and city administration officials reached the scene about 45 minutes after the incident, by which time the locals had taken most of the injured to the hospitals. The unidentified assailants had no difficulty escaping the carnage they had left behind at Mominpura graveyard, despite the presence of a police vehicle only a short distance from the site of Sunday's massacre.

Eyewitnesses claimed a police car was standing near the Lahore Hotel, only 30 yards away from the graveyard's entrance. After completing their operation, the criminals rode towards the Lahore Hotel in their red-coloured Suzuki jeep. As they approached the police mobile, policemen assumed defensive positions beside their car. However, when the assailants' jeep came closer and the policemen could see their guns stretching out of the windows, all the policemen panicked and scrambled for cover, hiding themselves behind their vehicle as the assailants turned into the Fleming road and fled.

An eyewitness, Amir, said four policemen braced themselves for attack when a red-coloured car rushed towards them. "After the firing, every one in the area knew the car belonged to the assailants, and some locals even shouted so that the police could encounter them," he said. However, the assailants had no difficulty in turning into a side street, Amir added.

Another local, Munawwar, said Fleming Road, from where the assailants fled the scene, remained crowded even on the Sunday holiday. He said if the police mobile had have at least radioed a message promptly, the assailants might not have escaped.

The deceased were identified as: Syed Mohammad Nizami Rizvi, s/o Syed Hashim Rizvi; Sarfraz, s/o Miraj Din; Mohammad Raza, s/o Ali Raza; Bahadar, s/o Ramzan; Zahid, s/o Jaffar Hussain; Syed Azad Hussain, s/o Syed Jaffar Hussain; Nasir Mehdi, Ali Raza, s/o Raza Abbas; Akbar Ali Hashmi, s/o Ahmad Ali Hashmi; Javed, s/o Akhtar Ali; Anayat Fatma, 50; Mohammad Siddique, a flower-stall owner; Haji Fida Hussain; Sadiq, s/o Chanan; Karim Baba, an Afghani (Mutawalli Mominpura Graveyard), Haider, s/o Sheikh Anwar Ali; Nadir Ali, s/o Abdi Ali; Mohammad Ali, 5, an unknown man (cleaner of Mominpura graveyard), and two unidentified persons. Later, Hassan Raza expired after he was removed to the General Hospital.

Religious vendettas last year claimed around 200 lives. The massacre, which police described as a "religiously motivated terrorist attack" was designed to kill as many as possible. Eyewitness Nasir Ali said a Shiite leader was giving a sermon at the graveyard on the main Mcleod Road when a jeep appeared. "It stopped some 50 feet from the main gate. A man armed with a Kalashnikov rifle went straight into the crowd. Another followed him and soon both started spraying bullets in all directions." The third gunman apparently kept watch at the gate of the cemetery, Ali said.

"It appeared a planned terrorist strike," Punjab police chief Jehanzeb Burki said, adding the attackers' aim was to kill as many people as possible. He said he expected retaliatory attacks elsewhere in the province and had put police on maximum alert.

Sunday's killings came only a day after the government strengthened security for 11 religious and political leaders following an intelligence warning that their lives were in danger. Official sources said those reported at risk included the Minister for Population, Syeda Abida Hussain, two members of the opposition Pakistan People's Party of former premier Benazir Bhutto and activists from two religious-political parties representing Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

LAHORE: Mominpura convicts get leave to appeal

LAHORE, July 19,2001: The Supreme Court granted two Mominpura carnage accused leave to challenge their conviction and death sentence for the purpose of reappraisal of evidence against them.

Five of the accused, including Riaz Basra, Aslam Lahori and Sanaullah, were declared absconders. Muhammad Ali alias Sultan alias Aziz Gujjar and Haroon Rashid were sentenced to death by an anti-terrorist court. The conviction and the sentence were upheld by the high court.

The appellants claimed that the police made a video film showing them making a confessional statement in violation of the law. The film was shown to witnesses who then identified them at an identification parade.

Advocate-General Maqbool Ilahi Malik, contesting the petition for leave to appeal, said the conviction was not based on the evidence impugned by the appellants as the trial court relied on other irrefutable incriminating material.

The bench comprising Justices Sheikh Riaz Ahmad and Tanvir Ahmad Khan, however, granted leave to 'reappraise evidence'.

Twenty-three people were killed in a terrorist attack on Mominpura graveyard near Lakshmi Chowk, Lahore, on January 11, 1998.

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