Cell services suspended in Pak cities to stop possible attacks

Islamabad: Against the backdrop of intelligence reports about possible terror attacks during the Eid holidays, cellular services have been suspended in four major Pakistani cities, including Lahore and Karachi, to prevent bombings triggered by mobile phones.

Millions of people in Lahore, Multan, Karachi and Quetta were unable to use their mobile phones since 8 pm last night as cellular operators suspended all services in most parts of these cities on the directions of the Interior Ministry.

After being briefly restored in parts of the cities early this morning, cellular services were again suspended between 7 am and 10 am as special prayers for Eid-ul-Fitr were held across the country.

Residents of Lahore and Karachi said services were restored in some parts of the cities at around 10 am. The move was criticised by people across Pakistan, who said they were unable to wish friends and relatives on the occasion of Eid.

Many Pakistanis took to social networking sites to criticise Interior Minister Rehman Malik and the suspension of mobile services, saying people would be unable to contact police or rescue services in any emergency. "We have done it to stop bombings using mobile phones," Malik told reporters when he made a surprise inspection of security at a market in Islamabad late last night.

He said the Interior Ministry had made arrangements to suspend cellular services in Islamabad too in the event of any emergency. "The objective of the Pakistan government is to save lives. There will be some inconvenience due to the lack of mobile services but I will request the people to bear with it," he said.

The decision to suspend cellular services was made following intelligence reports of possible terror attacks during the Eid holidays, Malik said.

"There have been instances of mobile phones being used as detonators in bomb attacks," he said. Referring to the terrorist attack on the Kamra airbase, a bombing in Karachi and a suicide attack on security personnel in Quetta over the past few days, Malik claimed some elements had drawn up a "blueprint to destabilise Pakistan."

Nine terrorists and two security personnel were killed in the attack on the Kamra airbase and seven persons were killed in the strikes in Karachi and Quetta.

Malik claimed the investigation into the attack on the airbase was on in "full swing" and the attackers had been identified. He said some persons had been arrested but refused to give details on the grounds that this could affect the probe.

Though the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had claimed responsibility for the attack on the Kamra airbase, Malik said he would accept this only if the outfit`s chief Hakimullah Mehsud came forward and acknowledged the group`s role.

Malik pointed out that all major terrorist attacks, including the 2007 assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto, had been traced back to North and South Waziristan.

Punjabi militants, members of banned organisations and foreign fighters were based in Waziristan, he said.