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Pakistan Shrine Bombing Kills Scores in Worst Attack in Months
A suicide bomber turned a spiritual dance celebration at a revered religious shrine into a slaughterhouse on Thursday, killing at least 70 people and wounding more than 250 in the worst act of terrorism to hit Pakistan in months.
At least 50 of the wounded were critically hurt in the explosion at the Sufi shrine in a remote part of southern Pakistan, officials said. Many of the victims were women.
The Islamic State, the extreme Sunni militant organization based in Syria and Iraq, announced that its branch in the region had carried out the attack.
The Islamic State, which regards members of other Muslim groups as nonbelievers deserving death, also claimed responsibility for an attack on a Sufi shrine in southwestern Pakistan in November. Sufism, popular in Pakistan, is regarded as a relatively tolerant branch of Islam.
The shrine assault on Thursday was by far the worst in a wave of militant attacks that have shaken Pakistan this week, most claimed by the Taliban. The attacks were the catalyst for a decision on Thursday by the armed forces to close the border with Afghanistan, where Pakistani officials claim that many such attacks are coordinated and plotted.
A spokesman for the armed forces, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, announced on Twitter that the border closing was effective immediately.
While Pakistani officials have voiced skepticism about the presence of the Islamic State in the country, they have acknowledged that some local militant groups have expressed support for it.
The attacks have underscored the challenges faced by the civil and military leadership to counter extremist violence.
On Wednesday, seven people were killed in northwestern Pakistan in two suicide bombings, one targeting judges in Peshawar, the provincial capital of the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. On Monday, at least 13 people were killed in Lahore, in the east, when militants targeted a protest.
The bombing Thursday evening targeted the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a popular Sufi saint, in Sehwan, a city in Jamshoro district of the southern Sindh Province. A large number of people had been performing a spiritual, devotional dance when the bomber struck in the courtyard, officials said, turning a place of spiritual reverie into a spectacle of blood and body parts.
The remoteness of the region added to the difficulties faced by the survivors and emergency responders. The nearest big city was about 90 miles away.
Khadim Hussain Rind, a senior provincial police officer, said that more than two dozen police officials had been deputized for security at the event and that closed-circuit cameras had been installed for surveillance of the shrine. "However, it is very difficult to stop a suicide bomber in a big crowd," Mr. Rind told the local news media.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the bombing as an assault on a "progressive inclusive future of Pakistan."
Sufi shrines and mosques have been targeted in the past by Taliban militants, who view Sufi Islam as contrary to their beliefs.
"The past few days have been hard, and my heart is with the victims," the prime minister said in the statement. "But we can't let these events divide us, or scare us. We must stand united in this struggle for the Pakistani identity and universal humanity."
The sudden spike in terrorist violence has shocked and surprised the country.
"Pakistan is under attack. The terrorists are creating a climate of fear, intimidation and uncertainty. No institution and no aspect of society is seemingly secure," Syeda Sughra Imam, a former senator, said in an interview. "Sehwan is synonymous with Pakistan's Sufi culture and tradition, which has been dealt a devastating blow today."
The Pakistani military had proudly claimed last year, under the leadership of the then army chief, that the military operations in the tribal regions, especially the one in North Waziristan, and intelligence operations in different cities had largely defeated the militant groups that had carried out many attacks.
But the violence has cast doubt on the military's claims.
Imran Khan, the prominent opposition politician, blamed the federal government for what he called its failure to follow through after the military's offensives against militants. "We need a coherent national security policy," Mr. Khan said in an interview.
"I do think complacency has set in," Mr. Khan said.
[Source: By Salman Masood, The New York Times, Islamabad, 16Feb17]
Islamic paramilitary organizations
|This document has been published on 20Feb17 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.|