Sufi shrine devotees defy terror, Pakistan cracks down (Roundup)

Karachi, Feb 17 (IANS) As Pakistan launched a nationwide crackdown after a horrific suicide bombing that killed nearly 90 people at a Sufi shrine, revered by Shias, in Sindh province, the custodian of the shrine announced on Friday that the evening ‘Dhamaal’ ritual would continue as usual.

The deaths in the attack, which the Islamic State owned, on the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine rose to 88 on Friday, health officials told media.

The police cordoned off the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine early on Friday, as forensic investigators arrived.

But the shrine’s caretaker stood unshaken by the carnage and vowed to continue the weekly ritual that draws hundreds of devotees.

Devotees said they would not be deterred by the attack that left the shrine’s white marbled precincts blood splattered, and tried to break the police cordon to enter the place.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa flew into Sehwan town and visited the injured in the hospital. They also visited the shrine. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah has been stationed at Sehwan, his political constituency, since Thursday night soon after the attack.

The Islamic State group claimed the attack, which also left more than 200 injured, many critically. The bomber struck as devotees gathered for the evening ‘Dhamaal’ ritual in a crowded space within the shrine.

The province’s Inspector General of Police termed the attack a result of a “security lapse”.

Security was tightened at religious places across the country in the aftermath of the bombing at the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine, with some closed till further notice and entry to others severely restricted.

Stung by one of the worst terrorist attacks in the country, Pakistan government and military went into an overdrive against terror suspects, and in a nation-wide crackdown at least 44 militants were killed and as many suspects rounded up.

While Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attack and said Afghan security forces were fighting all terrorist groups, including the Islamic State, Pakistan has blamed Kabul for harbouring the perpetrators.

Foreign Policy Adviser to Nawaz Sharif, Sartaj Aziz called Afghan National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar and stressed that the government and people of Pakistan were in deep anguish because of the recent spate of terrorist incidents.

Aziz conveyed to the Afghan official that terrorist group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar was behind the recent barbaric acts of terrorism. He expressed serious concern that the group continued to operate from its sanctuaries and safe havens in Afghanistan.

The Pakistan Army said that Afghan Embassy officials were called to General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and a list of 76 terrorists was handed over to them.

The bombing at Qalandar’s shrine was the tenth militant attack over the past five days in the country. The fresh wave of terrorism started with an attack on a media van in Karachi on Sunday, leaving a media worker dead.

The next day saw a suicide attack in Lahore that killed 13 people, including two senior police officers. On the same day, a Bomb Disposal Squad commander and a policeman were killed while defusing an IED in Quetta, and two security personnel lost their lives when their vehicle hit a landmine in south Waziristan.

On Wednesday, four suicide bombers blew themselves up in Peshawar, Mohmand Agency, and Charsadda in an attempt to target security forces and members of the judiciary. The attack on the judges left some injured.

On Thursday, besides the attack on the Sufi shrine, three soldiers were killed in a bomb attack in Awaran area of Balochistan, and four policemen and a civilian were killed in an attack on a police van in Dera Ismail Khan.

–IANS

ahm/rn/vt

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