Bomb kills dozens at Pakistan Sufi shrine
Quetta, Pakistan // At least 52 people were killed and more than 100 others injured in a bombing claimed by ISIL at a remote Sufi shrine in southern Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province on Saturday.
The blast hit a crowd of worshippers participating in a ceremony at the shrine of Sufi saint Shah Noorani in Khuzdar district, about 760 kilometres south of the provincial capital Quetta.
“At least 52 people have been killed and some 105 others wounded,” said provincial home minister Sarfraz Bugti, adding that there were women and children among the victims.
Local officials said worshippers were taking part in a devotional dance session, which is held daily before dusk, when the blast occurred.
Rescuers were scrambling to reach the shrine, which is located in a remote, mountainous region with limited medical facilities.
The shrine is revered and visited both by minority Shiites and Sunni Muslims, but extremist groups like the Taliban and ISIL consider the practice against Islam.
ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack via its affiliated news agency Amaq, saying that a suicide bomber targeting the shrine had killed around 35 people and injured 95 others.
But the provincial home minister said it was not immediately clear whether this was a suicide attack.
Up to 600 people were at the shrine at the time of the attack, according to local official Tariq Mengal, who told Geo TV that many devotees travelled there from Karachi during weekends.
Hafeez Ali, 26, a mechanic from Karachi, said he was sitting on a hillside and watching the evening’s dance when he heard a loud noise and saw smoke rising.
“We realised that it was a bomb blast. Two of us rushed down and saw the bodies scattered all around – mostly children. We also saw the drum beater dead and his exploded drum was lying nearby,” Mr Ali said.
He said the shrine sits on a hill which devotees have to climb for half an hour as no road goes there, causing difficulties for rescuers.
Pakistan army spokesman Lt Gen Asim said 20 ambulances and 50 soldiers had reached the site, while a further 45 ambulances and 100 troops were on their way.
A military helicopter would attempt evacuations at night, he added, but medical teams could not reach the area by plane as there were no air strips close by.
Four bodies and 21 of the injured had arrived in Karachi’s Civil Hospital, officials said.
The bombing follows the killing of Amjad Sabri, a renowned Sufi singer, by two gunmen in Karachi in June.
Some observers have said that Sabri may have been assassinated because he was a high-profile Sufi.
Sufism, a mystic Islamic order that believes in living saints, worships through music, is viewed as heretical by some hardline groups including the Taliban.
Balochistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, has oil and gas resources but is afflicted by extremist militancy, sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites and a separatist insurgency.
Local militants claimed to have worked with ISIL to attack a police academy in Balochistan last month, killing 61 people in the deadliest assault on a security installation in Pakistan’s history.
In August, a suicide bombing at a Quetta hospital claimed by ISIL and a faction of the Pakistani Taliban killed 73 people.
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: November 12, 2016 04:00 AM