‘And then there was a deafening explosion’

Visitors to the park on the evening of the suicide attack tell their stories

‘And then there was a deafening explosion’
It was Easter weekend, and the park was more crowded than usual. “Weekends are when we earn the most, especially Sundays,” says Majeed Aziz, a shopkeeper whose little store is located near Gate 3 of Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park.

Most of the crowd was entering from Gate 1 though, a 20-minute walk from his shop. And that is where a man blew himself up among the visitors, most of whom were women and children, and many were Christians celebrating their religious holiday.

“The noise was so loud, the ground actually shook. People started to flee through this gate. It was chaotic,” Majeed told me. He was also a witness to the Moon Market bombing in the same locality in 2009, which was among the major terrorist attacks to hit the city.

“The park is my favorite! The rides are cheap and a lot of fun,” a boy from the neighborhood said when I was visiting the site after the attack. Gate 1 opens to the main road, and there is a parking area for motorcycles. Inside the park, the first rides you see are also the most popular – the Discovery, and the Pirate Shit. There is a small fountain area, and other rides are scattered on the left and the right.

The explosion took place near the fountain. “We were thinking what ride to go on first, when there was a deafening blast,” said Raffat Ali, a teenaged victim who was at the park with his cousins. I met him in the pediatric ward at Jinnah Hospital. He was still wearing his blue shirt, splattered with (now dry) blood.

His sister Anum was seriously injured in the attack. She had wounds all over her body and face. “She didn’t want to sit on our ride and went towards the Discovery, and that is why she was hurt the worst,” he said. Anum underwent a surgery in which shrapnel was removed from her stomach.

Maryam, a student of Samnabad College, was also at the park along with her maternal aunt, who was visiting Lahore. “We were in line for the dodgem cars,” she said.

She did not lose consciousness when the explosion took place. Her lips were burnt, and need plastic surgery. “All I saw were bodies and people running out. I asked someone for their phone and called my parents as soon as I could.”

Like many other wounded who could walk, Maryam took a rickshaw and went to Jinnah hospital. “I don’t know when the ambulances arrived or what happened behind us. I just remember feeling a lot of pain and the need to get rid of it.” Her aunt was dangerously injured and is admitted in the surgical ward.

The park was sealed the next day, only open for reporters, security officials, and occasional politicians.

But Majeed had reopened his shop. “Closing my shop will neither help me nor the dead,” he said. “My earning is like a daily wage, and I have to pay the rent for this shop even if it is close. I cannot afford to just sit at home and mourn the dead.”