Photo by M Arif, White Star
Photo by M Arif, White Star

Osama Munir thought the end was nigh. He was standing in the basement of an Ahmadi prayer hall inside Lahore’s Model Town area on May 28, 2010 wondering what might hit him — a bullet or a bomb. As visions of an imminent death circulated in his head, he saw someone falling into the basement from the floor above. The man landed in front of Munir, struck by a bullet in the back.

An unknown number of attackers had entered the ground floor of the prayer hall a few minutes earlier. They first hurled a grenade to create space for themselves. Then they stood in the middle of that space and started shooting indiscriminately. Many worshippers, hit by shrapnel and bullets, ran downstairs to the basement for cover. “A man had a bullet injury in his abdomen. He came downstairs, lay down and breathed his last,” recalls Munir, sitting in his house in Lahore in December 2017.

The mayhem continued for about half an hour. It ended only when the police, a bomb disposal squad and ambulances rushed in to clear the prayer hall off the attackers as well as the wounded and the dead.

Munir tried calling his father Munir Ahmad Sheikh while he was still in the basement. A retired judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Sheikh was also the amir of Lahore’s Ahmadi community at the time. He was offering his prayer at another prayer hall in Garhi Shahu, around 12 kilometres to the northeast of Model Town.

The call did not connect. Sheikh would later call his wife to tell her that the Garhi Shahu prayer hall was also under a terrorist attack and that he had been hit by a bullet in the leg.

Three hours later, Munir and other members of his family were sitting inside their house in Garden Town, glued to the television and desperately seeking updates on the Garhi Shahu attack. Calls were being made to those outside the prayer hall there but no information was coming through. After an agonising wait, someone got the latest news and it was bad. Sheikh had not survived.

Around 98 people, including Nasir Ahmed Chaudhry, a 90-year-old retired major general of the Pakistan Army, also lost their lives in the twin attacks. 

“Threats were there,” says Munir. His father was getting letters from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan that they would attack Ahmadis in Lahore. One of the letters arrived right when Munir’s younger brother was getting married in December 2009. Those who sent the letter knew about the wedding and threatened to attack it. “My father deployed extra security at the periphery of the wedding’s venue,” Munir says. 

He and his younger brother shifted to Rabwah shortly after the attacks.

They happened to be visiting Lahore in December 2017 for a family event when they faced something unusual. “My wife went to a grocery store to buy a toothbrush. A couple of people sitting inside the shop looked at each other and told her that they did not have toothbrushes even when she could see them on a shelf,” he says.

They knew she was an Ahmadi and would not sell anything to her.

This is an excerpt from the Herald's April 2018 cover story. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.