A suicide bomber attacked a crowded Sufi shrine in southern Pakistan on Thursday, killing at least 72 people and wounding dozens more in the deadliest of a wave of bombings across the South Asian nation this week.
A spokesman for medical charity Edhi said the attacker appeared to have targeted the women’s wing of the shrine, and around 30 children accompanying their mothers were dead, Reuters reports.
Islamic State, the Middle East-based militant group which has a small but increasingly prominent presence in Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the group’s affiliated news agency AMAQ.
Senior police officer Shabbir Sethar told Reuters from a local hospital that the death toll was likely to rise.
“At least 72 are dead and over 150 have been injured,” Sethar said by telephone.
Television footage from the famous Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in the town of Sehwan Sharif showed army and paramilitary medical teams reaching the site and injured people being taken to nearby hospitals in ambulances and a military helicopter.
“We were there for the love of our saint, for the worship of Allah,” a wailing woman told the Dawn News television channel outside the shrine, her headscarf streaked in blood. “Who would hurt us when we were there for devotion?”
The attack comes as the Pakistani Taliban and rival Islamist militant groups carry out their threats of a new offensive.
The violence has shattered a period of improving security, underscoring how militants still undermine stability in the nuclear-armed country of 190 million people.
The high death toll at the shrine makes it one of the worst attacks in Pakistan in recent years.
In August last year, at least 74 people, mostly lawyers, were killed in a suicide bombing of a hospital in the southwestern city of Quetta.
In November, an explosion claimed by Islamic State ripped through a Muslim shrine in southwestern Pakistan, killing at least 52 people and wounding scores.
Shortly after the blast, the army announced it was closing the border with Afghanistan with immediate effect for security reasons. Insurgents operate on either side of the neighbors’ long and porous frontier.
An ancient mystic branch of Islam, Sufism has been practiced in Pakistan for centuries.
Lal Shahbaz Qalander is Pakistan’s most revered Sufi shrine, dedicated to a 13th-century “saint” whose spirit is invoked by devotees in ecstatic daily dancing and singing rituals in Sehwan Sharif.
Thursdays are an especially important day for local Sufis, meaning that the shrine was packed at the time of the blast.
Most of Pakistan’s myriad radical Sunni militant groups – including the Pakistani Taliban’s various factions and Islamic State loyalists – despise Sufis, Shi’ite Muslims and other religious minorities as heretics.
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