It was Friday afternoon as people went around shopping for Eid in Pakistan’s border city of Quetta. With less than a week before the Muslim celebration marking the end of Ramadan, no one there seemed to anticipate that within minutes, this busy part of town – a hub of activity – would be awash in blood, and on a scale seldom seen in the city.
This happened despite warnings from the Pakistani interior ministry that large processions should be avoided in order to minimise the threat of an attack by suicide bombers – who have, time and again, targeted large processions.
Authorities had advised that the Shia gatherings marking Al Quds day in solidarity with Palestinians, should be kept indoors to avoid large-scale bloodshed. However, not paying heed, a procession of Shia students from the Imamia Students organisation was holding its march.
They were allowed to continue until a safe point and were advised by the police high-ups not to proceed into the congested areas where other people were shopping for the festive season. A senior police officer told the procession not to go any further, but they would not be budged and started to move ahead.
Once the crowds swelled and the speeches started, a suicide bomber came into the throng and blew himself up, killing between 6-8 people. What happened after that was something people will not forget.
The procession, according to witnesses, had guards brandishing guns, who then started to fire indiscriminately, apparently killing people at random. When it was all over, 50 people lay dead in the bazaar and over 100 were badly wounded.
People rushed their loved ones to the nearest hospitals in rickshaws and on motorbikes, but except for at the military hospital, doctors did not show up for at least two hours, fearing they may themselves become targets.
According to one senior reporter, many people died because they did not get help in time. Amongst them, Mohibullah, an Al Jazeera fixer who worked with me in Afghanistan and reported for CNN during the Afghan war, was hit by a bullet, which pierced his kidney. He was in hospital until late at night, waiting for a doctor before finally succumbing to his wounds.
Mohibullah left seven daughters and a young son to mourn his death. But there were many others who lost someone dear. Some people told me in Quetta that the suicide bombing was an act of terror, but what followed was an even bigger terror.