Terrified passengers at Lahore airport endured a night of horror and panic on Monday after yet another onslaught by ill-mannered children, that created chaos that survivors say they had not experienced in years. Dozens of civilians were hurt physically and emotionally, including women, children and the elderly.

The children were first seen entering the airport at around 8pm, from the international departures gate at the new Allama Iqbal terminal, a source in the Airport Security Force (ASF) revealed. “I had come to see my parents off when I saw the miscreants entering the gate, indiscriminately subjecting unsuspecting passengers and airport staff to relentless physical and verbal abuse,” a 35-year-old businessman told reporters. “I felt that it was my duty as a concerned citizen to warn my parents and other passengers about the impending attack.” In minutes, the airport was under red alert.

Intelligence agencies believe the six children belonged to two local families, who were on their way to England. Without wasting time, a warning was dispatched to officials at London’s Heathrow airport.

Back at the Lahore airport, the militants had been able to bypass security checks by 8:20, and headed towards the passengers lounge in a three-by-three formation providing cover to each other, the ASF official said. “There was nothing we could do to stop them.”

In the lounge, it was just another day for the payphone operator Shafeeq, who has been scamming passengers for two decades, offering to let them make a small phone call, and then charging them for a 1000-rupee phone card instead of one local call. “It was business as usual until we heard the explosions and cries,” he says. Experienced in dealing with such attacks in the past, he knew what was about to happen. “But I was still so frightened that I couldn’t move,” he said. “All I could do was shout the code words to my fellow shopkeepers, who quickly began to hide the products that they had put on display.” For many, it was too late. Shafeeq began to weep as he showed a dismantled telephone receiver to this scribe. But he failed to notice his shoe laces had been tied to each other with coiled cord.

On the runway, a Boeing aircraft belonging to the flag carrier PIA was all set to depart when the captain was informed of the imminent danger. Passengers entering the plane told other passengers, and before long, fear had taken over the hopes and aspirations of the London-bound travelers.

Bahadur, who was among the several hapless passengers sitting next to empty seats, was tweeting a chilling account of the build up to the first encounter. “When I heard the first explosion, my heart skipped a beat,” he told this scribe in an exclusive interview. “I closed my eyes and began to recite all the prayers that I could remember. But it didn’t work.”

Details of what happened next have been deliberately omitted, in line with this scribe’s commitment with the media code of conduct, which does not allow airing or publishing gruesome images and descriptions of violence and misery.

Twenty minutes later, Lahore airport was still in a state of shock. A man was cleaning snot from his cuff, a woman was consoling her husband suffering from body image issues after an unsolicited conversation with the children, and an elderly woman was looking for someone who could bring her wheelchair back to the toilet.

“The most tragic thing about such attacks is that there is nothing you can do about it,” said a security analyst. “We live in a society where there is a clear and present danger from unruly children. But what can we do? Once someone sets out of their homes with their children with them, there is no way you can stop them from an onslaught like this. The best we can do is put up a timely reaction, and save our key assets and installations, as well as our citizens, from more severe damage.” Not everyone agrees.

A retired military official, who goes home to four children every day for the last 30 years and is therefore seen as an expert in ungoverned spaces, believes the state must be more proactive. “We must empower our parents to launch preemptive strikes whenever and wherever necessary,” he believes. “We cannot continue to let them attack us like this. We must take the war to them.”

The author has a degree in Poetics of Prophetic Discourse and works as a Senior Paradigm Officer.