The Research and Analysis Wing had issued warnings of an imminent suicide-attack targeting the evening flag ceremony at the Wagah border on October 15, more than two weeks before Sunday night’s lethal bombing on the Pakistani side, government sources have told The Indian Express. The warning, the sources said, came after Pakistan’s Rangers enhanced their forces and were seen erecting new defensive structures — a move which led the Border Security Force to place troops on high alert.
The suicide-bomb attack at Wagah took place at a parking-lot barricade some 350 metres from the international border, at 6.12 pm Indian time. The attack came as Pakistani visitors were returning to the parking area after watching the evening border parade, an event that draws thousands on Sundays. Among the victims are several women and children, and at least three Rangers personnel.
From their observation posts, Border Security Force personnel said they saw a massive cloud of smoke rise after the explosion. “There were people lying everywhere,” a BSF officer told The Indian Express. “Our troops counted more than a hundred. We tried contacting the Rangers to find out what had happened, but got no response.”
BSF Director General D K Pathak said: “We were already on high alert and had deployed extra quick reaction teams near the ceremony area. The suicide attack on the Pakistan side of Wagah border took place near the parking lot when visitors were leaving after watching the ceremony.”
“On Pakistan Rangers’ request, we have decided not to hold the retreat ceremony parade for the next three days.
They said they were calling off the ceremony to mourn their dead,” Pathak said.
Government sources said the BSF had observed troops from the Pakistan Rangers 11 Wing enhancing defensive posts on roads leading up to the border, and placing new barricades, during the second week of October. Though the Pakistan did not formally notify the BSF of the reasons for enhanced defensive fortifications, the BSF intelligence-wing, the G-Branch, interpreted the actions as suggesting preparations for a suicide-borne car attack.
RAW, the sources said, later detected preparations for a suicide attack, leading India to enhance defences in case terrorists attempted to breach the border either in a fidayeen attack or using a vehicle.
Major General Tahir Khan, commander of the Pakistan Rangers in Punjab, told the media that the suicide attacker had been standing near the first of a series of walk-through gates and scanners leading up to the parade ground, and thus evaded detection. “He did not breach security,” Khan said.
Inspector General Mushtaq Sukhera said the Rangers had been prepared for an attack, “but when large numbers of people started to leave the ground, the bomber blew himself up”. Sukhera said the bomber was estimated to have used a suicide belt packed with five kilograms of explosives, as well as metal pellets.
Indian visitors to the evening flag-lowering ceremony, which draws thousands to stadia-like venues on both sides of the border each Sunday, had already vacated the area, a BSF official said. “It was just luck that the bombing didn’t take place a few minutes earlier or we could have had a stampede.”