F-8 courts attack: Seven years later, terror revisits courts compound

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Mar 4, 2014.

Islamabad – The dark, bloody night of July 17, 2007, returned to the Islamabad district courts in Sector F-8 in broad daylight on Monday when suicide bombers exploded inside the courts after firing volleys of bullets on innocent civilians.

In 2007, a lawyers’ rally, which was going to be addressed by former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, during the famous lawyers’ movement to restore judiciary was targeted at the courts. At least fifteen were killed and more than 40 injured.

The fatalities and injuries on Monday were fewer but the terror caused by the attack broke through the roof. The incident, in which 11 were killed and at least 29 injured, also raised concerns about ill-planned courts compound, the response of the security forces and about how exposed the capital’s residents are to the ruthlessness of militants.

“There was no security,” said eyewitness lawyer, Faramoz Khan. Only one of the around 50 police personnel present inside the judicial compound fired back at the unidentified assailants.

The attack itself was unprecedented.

“I heard five gunshots and thought it might be some criminal gangs quarreling,” said Advocate Chaudhry Mansoor Ahmad. But when the firing didn’t stop, Mansoor said he knew “it was something bigger.”

Lawyers and citizens present in the court tried to hide in the chambers for dear life as the attackers apparently moved through the narrow lanes inside the katchery. In some chambers, bullet holes and blood stains on the floor suggested people were shot at through the windows.

In other rooms, blood stains and little bits of flesh existed without any bullet scars or signs of resistance, indicating the gunmen simply moved inside for the kill.

“If the judges are not safe in the country, then how can the ordinary citizen be expected to be safe,” said Sher Afzal Khan advocate. One additional sessions judge was killed in the attack and some other judges were injured.

Police at the Margalla police station, which provides personnel for the courts’ security and also lost one of its men during the incident, said the lawyers had never welcomed strict security measures. “If we try to frisk them for security clearance, they treat us like dirt,” said one policeman.

But lawyers throughout the country called it a security lapse and condemned the terrorist activity. Traders in the area and the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry also condemned the attack and termed it a direct assault on the country’s judiciary.

Residents of Sector F-8 said they spent a traumatic morning trying to make sense of the brutal attack, in which the firing lasted for around 15 minutes with grenade blasts and two suicide blasts.

“I think the courts should be moved to a different location,” said Mrs Nuzhat Jabeen, a housewife who lives in F-8/4. “This is not a secure area for the courts and it might bring trouble for us residents too.”

The katchery criss-crosses with the markets in F-8 markaz. Most of the markets closed immediately after the attack as Rangers and police started a search operation in the area.

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