The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a Sufi shrine in southern Pakistan on Thursday that killed at least 70 people.
The Pakistani government launched a nationwide security crackdown on Friday, cordoning off the area where the attack took place. FRANCE 24’s correspondent in the capital Islamabad, Taha Siddiqui, reported that at least 25 people were killed in the raids.
The bombing struck the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in the town of Sehwan in Sindh province, around 200 kilometres northeast of the provincial capital Karachi.
A suicide bomber entered the shrine through the main entrance, called the golden door. He self-detonated on a sacred day to pray (a Thursday) at the Sufi shrine. The attacker blew himself up after throwing a grenade which failed to explode, a senior police officer told the leading Pakistani daily, Dawn.
The explosion took place in the area where a dhamaal (a Sufi ritual) was being performed after the evening prayers.
A statement released by Amaq, the IS group's self-proclaimed news agency, said an IS "suicide bomber has set off his explosive vest against Shiites gathering at the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine in Sehwan City, Sindh Province."
Sufi shrines -- where a mystical, syncretic, form of Islam is practiced -- have been frequently targeted by militant Sunni groups in Pakistan.
‘I saw bodies everywhere’
Witnesses described scenes of sheer panic.
"I saw bodies everywhere. I saw bodies of women and children," Raja Somro, who was inside the shrine, told a local TV station.
State-run Pakistan Television quoted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as saying that the country's military and other security forces would use all their resources to track down and arrest the culprits.
In a strongly-worded statement, Pakistan's army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa said "each drop of our nation's blood shall be revenged, and revenged immediately. No more restraint for anyone."
The Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine attracts worshippers from across the country. Nevertheless, emergency services are basic in the town of Sehwan, with the nearest main hospital some 130 kilometres away.
The lack of medical facilities in Sehwan sparked furious posts on Twitter, with many Pakistanis angry about the state’s failure to build hospitals in the town.
Recent attacks after period of relative calm
The security situation has seriously deteriorated in Pakistan this week, with a powerful suicide bomb attack rocking the Punjab provincial capital Lahore, killing at least 13 people and wounding dozens more on Monday.
Four suicide bombers struck northwest Pakistan on Wednesday, killing six people and unnerving civilians who fear for their security .
Also on Monday, two members of a bomb disposal unit were killed in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, when a device they were defusing went off.
Pakistan has seen a dramatic improvement in security since its deadliest-ever extremist attack -- a Pakistani Taliban assault on a school in Peshawar in 2014 which left more than 150 people dead, mostly children, and prompted a government and military crackdown.
The army intensified a long-awaited operation in the semi-autonomous tribal areas, where militants had previously operated with impunity, and the government launched a much-vaunted National Action Plan against extremism.
Emboldened, Pakistanis are once again attending public gatherings and a sense of optimism is palpable after more than a decade of militant attacks.
But critics have repeatedly warned that the crackdown does not address the root causes of extremism, and homegrown groups like the Pakistani Taliban can still carry out horrific assaults.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)
Date created : 2017-02-16