LAHORE - At least five people including a police sub-inspector were killed and 27 others wounded in a powerful explosion near Police Headquarters Qila Gujjar Singh at Empress Road on Tuesday.

At least 27 people were also wounded in the blast which appeared to have been caused by a young suicide bomber who blasted himself ‘prematurely’. The death toll could swell as the condition of some of the injured was said to be critical.

Highly-placed sources revealed that Lahore DIG (Operations) Dr Haider Ashraf was the possible target since the bomber blew himself up on the route the officer was scheduled to pass through. The operations police chief was leaving the police headquarters after presiding over a security meeting when the blast occurred outside a crowded commercial centre. A police officer also said that, “It appears that the bomber was waiting for the operations police chief to come out.” Police are also investigating whether anyone inside the Police Lines was in touch with the terrorist.

Police investigators are still trying to determine the exact nature of the blast with a senior investigator stating that possibility of explosive-laden vehicle could not be ruled out. Several vehicles caught fire soon after the blast and roads were seen littered with glasses as the windows of nearby buildings shattered.

35-year-old Athar Abbas was standing in a long-queue for biometric verification of his mobile phone SIM at a franchise near a teastall, frequently visited by policemen, when the bomber detonated his explosive vest.

“I felt as something, very powerful, pushed me from the backside. I was bleeding as I fell on the ground. I immediately dragged myself to leave the area thinking that another blast could follow,” Abbas who was shifted to Services Hospital with multiple injuries told this reporter at the emergency ward. Sibtain Sohail, a wounded policeman, said that the blast was so powerful that it impaired his hearing.

Reportedly, Jamaatul Ahrar, an offshoot of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan asserted responsibility of the terror strike which shook the Punjab capital, which has seen relatively a few attacks recently.

It was also learnt that the bomber managed to cross a police checkpoint without being frisked or intercepted by the cops deployed there and reached close to the main gate of the police headquarters.

After visiting the crime scene, Punjab Inspector General of Police (IGP) Mushtaq Ahmed Sukhera told reporters that it seemed the bomber was trying to blast the entrance gate of the police headquarters located close to key government installations and a shrine.

Although the police did not accept security lapse in Tuesday’s bombing, the terrorist managed to reach close to the main gate of the Police Lines despite massive police deployment and checkpoints outside.

On both sides of the headquarters, police have set up special pickets by putting barriers on the roads to intercept the movement of motorists. Dozens of policemen, including sharp-shooters, were also deployed on the front side of the headquarters.

The crime scene suggests that the bomber managed to cross the police picket without being checked.

Police officials and rescue workers gave conflicting death tolls but the provincial home minister Shuja Khanzada said four civilians and one policeman had been killed, while another 19 were injured.

Earlier, Rescue-1122 spokesman claimed that eight people had been killed. “Five persons are dead while at least 27 injured including policemen were shifted to different public hospitals,” the spokesman later claimed. The deceased were identified as police sub-inspector Rana Yousaf, 46, Muhammad Abbas, 22, Waqar Ahmed, 30 and Amjad Abbas, 30. Police are yet to ascertain identity of another dead body recovered from the crime scene.

Forensic experts also reached the spot within no time and collected evidence from the spot. They also recovered some body parts of the bomber and shifted it to the Punjab Forensic Science Agency for investigation.

Bomb disposal squad officials said that some 8 to 10-kg explosive material was used in the device. An official said that ball bearings, nuts, bolts and shrapnel were also used to inflict maximum casualties.

The high-intensity bomb shattered the windowpanes of several nearby buildings, besides badly damaging seven vehicles. Eyewitnesses said that a commercial building and several vehicles also caught fire soon after the blast. Firefighting units rushed to the spot and managed to put out the blaze within a few minutes.

Tuesday’s bombing could dampen the three-day literary festival that is scheduled to begin in Lahore on Friday. Last year, thousands of people had attended the annual event despite security threats.