Fam­i­lies ripped apart in Pak­istan shrine at­tack

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Sur­vivors of a mas­sive bomb at­tack on a shrine in south­west Pak­istan that killed dozens spoke of their hor­ror Sun­day af­ter fam­i­lies were ripped apart in a strike show­ing the ex­pand­ing reach of the Is­lamic State group.

The blast, later con­firmed to be the work of a teenage sui­cide bomber, hit male and fe­male wor­ship­pers as they were danc­ing and chant­ing at the shrine of the Sufi saint Shah Noorani on Satur­day, some 750 kilo­me­ters south of Quetta, the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal of restive Balochis­tan prov­ince.

Mo­ham­mad She­hzad, a 25-year-old who had trav­elled in a group of 120 pil­grims, told AFP: “The pres­sure of the blast was so strong, peo­ple were blown away. Ev­ery­one was run­ning, shout­ing and search­ing for fam­i­lies. “Chil­dren were look­ing for the mothers and fa­thers. Peo­ple look­ing for broth­ers and sis­ters but no one was able to lis­ten to their cries.” The at­tack killed 52 and wounded more than 105 and was the fourth dead­li­est in Pak­istan this year. Stricken sur­vivors swathed them­selves in blan­kets and braved the cold un­der open skies overnight as they made their way home.

Many had trav­elled hun­dreds of kilo­me­ters to pay their re­spects to the saint and seek bless­ings, in line with their be­lief in Su­fism, a mys­tic Is­lamic or­der that wor­ships through mu­sic and is viewed as hereti­cal by hard­line mil­i­tant groups. Un­like at mosques in Pak­istan, which of­ten limit ac­cess to women, both gen­ders are per­mit­ted to take part in many rit­u­als at Sufi shrines, though they are some­times sep­a­rated by par­ti­tion walls. Wit­nesses said prob­lems were com­pounded by the fact that it took sev­eral hours for res­cue ser­vices to reach the re­mote shrine, lo­cated on a hill­top in the Khuzdar district of Balochis­tan sev­eral kilo­me­ters away from sur­round­ing vil­lages, with poor mo­bile net­work cov­er­age. Hafeez Ali, a 28-year-old auto me­chanic, said: “We had left the area only five min­utes be­fore the at­tack to go and cook our din­ner. From our view­point on a hill, we could see three whirling dervishes danc­ing to a drum­mer, as hun­dreds formed a cir­cle around them. Then came the ex­plo­sion. “We re­al­ized 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.”

Is­lamic State growth

Sar­fraz Bugti, the prov­ince’s home min­is­ter, told AFP the blast was car­ried out by a teenage sui­cide bomber. “We have found body parts of the bomber which place his age at around 16 to 18,” he said. The an­nounce­ment lent cre­dence to a claim of re­spon­si­bil­ity by the Is­lamic State group, which re­leased a photo overnight of the pur­ported at­tacker-a dark-skinned youth dressed in white tu­nic with a green back­pack-via its af­fil­i­ated Amaq news agency.

It was the sec­ond ma­jor as­sault claimed by the Mid­dle-East based out­fit in as many months, fol­low­ing a raid on a po­lice academy in the same prov­ince that killed 61 peo­ple. Mil­i­tant sources in the prov­ince have told AFP that IS, which had ear­lier strug­gled to gain a foothold in Pak­istan be­cause of com­pe­ti­tion from al­ready es­tab­lished groups, has now forged al­liances with lo­cal af­fil­i­ates in­clud­ing the anti-Shi­ite Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group.

Pak­istan has been bat­tling a home­grown Is­lamist in­sur­gency since shortly af­ter the US-led in­va­sion of Afghanistan in 2001 forced the rem­nants of the Taleban and Al-Qaeda to flee across the border. Over­all lev­els of vi­o­lence have dropped in re­cent years fol­low­ing ma­jor mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in the tribal ar­eas mainly tar­get­ing the Pak­istani Taleban, but it now ap­pears that new threats are emerg­ing. Amir Rana, an ex­pert on mil­i­tancy, said: “It seems that IS has found an ally in Pak­istan, which is prob­a­bly the Al-Alami fac­tion Lashkar-eJhangvi. “The group is or­ga­niz­ing the scat­tered factions of sec­tar­ian out­fits and Taleban factions, across the country, but it is much more or­ga­nized in Balochis­tan and Sindh.” Satur­day’s at­tack was also the dead­li­est on a Sufi shrine in the country’s his­tory. The pre­vi­ous worst at­tack came in April 2011 when 50 peo­ple were killed in a dou­ble sui­cide bomb at­tack out­side the shrine of Ahmed Sul­tan in Dera Ghazi Khan district of Pun­jab. —AFP

HUB, PAK­ISTAN: Pak­istani vol­un­teers carry an in­jured blast vic­tim at a hos­pi­tal in the Hub district, some 40 kilo­me­ters from Karachi, on Novem­ber 12, 2016. —AFP

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