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Terrorists Attack

09 August 2002 Terrorists Attack Shocked Us .

This is my part of the story of 09th August 2002. I am certain that everyone in the hospital has a different experience to tell. It had been raining almost all night and everyone at the hospital was very happy that maybe now the extreme water shortage, that we have been living with for the entire summer, may be over. That night, children, boys and girls and even older men and ladies were happily walking around in the cool rain. This is not a tradition but after intense 46 degree heat and 90% humidity, in 35 degrees one just feels like walking around enjoying the blessing of the cool falling rain. I woke up once in the night to hear the patter of rain and then fell asleep knowing that it will be a cool day and not very many patients for once. In the morning, I was concerned for the operation of the rig that has started to drill for water. I purposely did not take an umbrella as it just felt nice to feel the rain falling on my head.

As usual, I stopped off in our workshop to see if everything was okay. They informed me that I was without an umbrella and I answered that I did not want to hinder Lord’s blessing by using the umbrella as it just might stop raining if I brought one. By that time it was drizzling so I walked to the Chapel a bit early to get out of the rain and went and sat on my usual 3rd bench from the back. By then the rain was getting heavier.

The service starts at 7:30 in the morning. Normally we start with the singing of a ‘Zabur’ (a hymn) and then a prayer. One Pakistani institution or group of people is pre-selected to be prayed for, and on this day it was our choir. It was a Friday so the service also included a small talk by one of the evangelists.

The service ended with the Lord’s Prayer, and then as usual the ladies rose up and started to walk out in a file of two. The aisle of the church is just broad enough for two to walk side by side. Men wait until the ladies are all out, and then they start walking out. Men sit on the right side of benches and the ladies on the left. On my bench I think there were three other people. Normally I wait till the crowd thins out before getting into the aisle to go out. On 9th of August 2002 I just got up as the ladies’ line was ending and moved into the aisle to go out. The three others (I think they were students) got in front of me. Since the downpour was very heavy now the ladies, all nurses and other female paramedical staff, were going quite slowly.

They were opening up their umbrellas and then walking out, and there was a constant noise of hum of young girls talking excitedly about the nice rain fall. We had been praying for rain for months and now it had been answered. The porch was full of the women and girls. There was movement in front of me and I stepped forward. As I stepped forward there was an intense flash followed by a great blast on the left side of the church. As I was falling to my right side with others falling upon me, I could see the white flash reflected on the white ceiling of the church. My first thought was that lightening had struck, and the thought flashed through my mind: “My God, what an experience; I am alive!” The great shock stopped the clock at 7:48, and was followed by deafening silence.

Then the screams started from outside and the crowd in front surged back. I had fallen in between the benches so they were trampling on my legs to rush back into the church. Then I knew that we were under attack. I had no idea what was coming next but I did expect that the gun fire would start. I pushed my way through all of them outside and saw the carnage on the left. There was bodies, blood, smashed umbrellas, torn off clothing, blown off shoes, nurse’s white caps. The rain was pouring down.

There was no one left standing and the area up to the chapel gate was clear. I rushed out toward the gate and shouted at the stunned gate keepers and other people standing there to run after the attackers. I too ran out and then they were shouting that one of the attackers was lying face down with a grenade in his hand. He was lying face down about 20 feet away on the right side of the gate. A grenade was showing under him with his hand close to it. They were shouting “He has a grenade in his hand!” I thought “My God, it is another suicide terrorist.” He looked dead so I ran back.

By that time other staff had come out of the church, and I shouted to them to bring the stretchers. I did not realize that I too had been hit by flying glass and my ear was bleeding profusely. Many others were walking around in a daze with blood running from their injuries. All the people inside the chapel were injured with blasted glass and window frames, but the grenades were too far away to cause any structural damage. I ran to the canteen and asked them for the external phone. The phone was dead as the line had been blown off by the blast. The internal phone was working and I called home to my wife Akhtar, and asked her to call the emergency police at 15 and tell them that there had been a terrorist attack. By that time the ‘Charpoys’ (the knitted jute beds that we use) from Canteen were arriving and the injured were being transported. The trolleys and stretchers too were brought from the wards.

There was no panic. Every one worked at what they were best trained to do. All our staff behaved in a most efficient and cool manner. It looked like they had rehearsed this routine many times, it was really incredible. The doctors present in the chapel looked at the injured and decided who would be transported first. They were already starting the morning’s work in the operating room, which was about 200 yards away. By that time Dr. Ernest, Dr. Naz, Dr. Pramila, Dr. Phyllis, Dr. Julius, Dr. Felix Gill and Dr. Javed had gathered in the operating room. The very clean operating rooms were in a mess with blood and mud as the inured were wheeled in on the trolleys, along with the muddy feet of the people who were pushing. The Pharmacy staff were bringing in the IV bags and bandages. All the rooms were being used as emergency rooms. One person was declared beyond help; the body was quietly wheel to a side room. They were trying to stabilize another. The doctors said that we will have to move some of them to a large hospital nearby. The workshop staff removed the seats out from the vans in record time and brought it around the front. Now you could hear the screaming and crying of the onlookers. One badly injured was prepared to go to the other hospital; the van went off and within minutes was seen returning. We were told that the lady was no longer with us. As prayers were being said, another one succumbed to her injuries.

I called my son at home and asked him to send out an email to all the addresses that we have. That was the first lot of information you all got of the tragedy. Then someone pushed me into the operating room and showed me to a doctor. I was told that I should hold a hanky to the bleeding ear and return later. They were working with a quiet efficiency as though they had done it many times before. My turn came some three hours later. Dr. Ernest said that if they gave me a local anesthetic, it would be the same number of needle pricks, so I chose to get sutured without the anesthetic. I could feel the needle pricking and then the suture being pulled through, but I think that the shock had anesthetized the left side of my head, so I did not feel too much pain. The recovery room had been immediately converted into an intensive care ward, with all available medical staff present. By that time the police had arrived and blocked the entrance to the hospital, since everyone wanted to see what had happened. Many people found out about the attack quite late as most people had imagined that it was just another lightening strike in the heavy rain. Then the necessary interviews began with police and the other intelligence personal.

First the police officer in charge arrived, followed by the Deputy Superintendent of Police, who looks after the police stations in our sub-district. Thirdly the Police Superintendent arrived who looks after the police stations of our district, then the Senior Superintendent in charge of the entire Rawalpindi Division arrived, followed by the Deputy Inspector General of Police, who looks after the one part of the Punjab Province. The Federal Minister of Minorities also visited, and later the Federal Minister of Law arrived. Teams of police interviewed any one who was present, but there were not a whole lot of people who saw anything. The radio and the news paper reporters were there as well. The BBC, CNN and God knows how many others. Dr. Ashchenaz and I sat in the office next to the church to give interviews and attend the calls that were pouring in. Within hours every one knew of it and of course wanted to speak to us. The rest is history. How, the three young men entered the gate: one was stopped by the gate keeper. The two with bags on their shoulders wanted to enter the church gate and were stopped by a shout from the gatekeeper.

How, the terrorist close to the gate keeper pulled a gun on him and pushed him into the small cubicle. How, the Pashto speaking girl saw two of the attackers coming towards them, and then heard the fellow at the gate shout in Pashto at the other two that the people in the church had come out, so throw the grenades and run. How, the dead terrorist was killed by the grenade pellet. How, the grenades fell and exploded simultaneously right on the footpath. The grenades fell about four girls after the leading ones, so some were hit with the exploding steel balls from front, and some in the back. How, one of the girls was blown into the chain link fence nearby.

How, some injured nurses kept working to save lives, not telling anyone till later of their own injuries. How, the blood donors rushed to the other hospitals to give blood. How, the grenades dug craters about 3 foot wide and 2 foot deep. How, the seams of the clothes were torn off. How. a single steel pellet went all the way to the other end of the church and pierced right through the picture of the kneeling Christ in the Gethsemane Garden.

How , Parveen (one who has passed away) had the entire top of the grenade in her abdomen, along with the names and numbers on it necessary for identification. How, the police brought the big van with the computer facility to make up the face of anyone. As the first face emerged, three of the girls made a positive identification. It took merely 20 minutes, as the faces had been imprinted on the minds of the leading girls. How, the leading girls escaped with minor injuries as the grenades went over their head into the middle of the row. How, all the Muslim friends who know this place came and cursed the terrorists. How, it has become known that 99% of the population thinks that all white people are Christians. Hence the attack on us, for being Christians.

How & who will remove this gross misconception?
It looks like the place of healing, Christian Hospital Taxila, will change to look like a place under siege. It will not look very nice, but it will have to be done. It will cost money to buy fire arms, new walls and metal detectors, along with a continuous further expense for the extra security staff. These things will all contribute to burden our finances, which will in turn have to be translated into the eventual cost to our patients. We are looking at a new world of threat surrounding us, but we know that Christians world wide are praying for us. Had it not been for the girls who sacrificed their lives, we are certain that the number of fatalities would have been much higher, and I might not have been here to tell you this very tragic story.

Joseph Lall
Sticky Kit