Suicide bombers hit Pakistani Sufi shrine; 35 dead, 175 injured
ISLAMABAD—Two suicide bombers struck Pakistan’s most important Sufi shrine Thursday night, a devastating attack by religious militants on the moderate, more flexible blend of Islam that is practiced by most Pakistanis.
The bombers attacked in the city of Lahore just before midnight, the peak worship time for the shrine, known as Data Ganj Baksh. Thousands of people were at the shrine at the time, according to the Pakistani police. At least 35 people were killed and 175 others injured, according to police officials.
The death toll could climb because at least 25 of those wounded in the attacks were in critical condition.
The strike on such a revered place of worship is certain to enrage Pakistanis, who are growing weary of violence that has spiked in the past four years. It is part of a pattern of increased violence in Pakistan’s heartland, the province of Punjab, a troubling expansion of the Taliban insurgency tormenting the country’s western border.
“This is a barbaric attack,” wrote Raza Ahmed Rumi, a Pakistani expert on Sufism, on his website. The shrine, he said, “is not just another crowded place — it represents a millennia of tolerant Sufi Islam which is directly under attack by the puritans.”
The bombers detonated explosives in the basement and inside the shrine after a Sufi ceremony of singing and prayer, according to a witness, Muhamed Yusef, who was interviewed on Pakistani television.
The blasts left a sickening scene of devastation. The Express 24/7 television network in Pakistan showed the shrine’s interior littered with bodies, prayer rugs and debris from the blast. Blood pooled on the white marble floor. Crowds gathered outside the shrine after the bombings, shouting, crying and protesting the attack.
“Those who still pretend that we are not a nation at war are complicit in these deaths,” said Farahnaz Ispahani, a spokeswoman for President Asif Ali Zardari.
Sufism is a mystical form of Islam brought into South Asia by wandering thinkers who spread the religion east from the Arabian peninsula. The mystics carried a message of equality that was deeply appealing to indigenous societies torn by caste and poverty. To this day, Sufi shrines stand out in Islam for allowing women free access.
In modern times, Pakistan’s Sufis have been challenged by a stricter form of Islam that dominates in Saudi Arabia. That orthodox form of Sunni Islam was encouraged in Pakistan in the 1980s by Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, the U.S.-supported dictator.
Since then, the fundamentalists’ aggressive stance has tended to eclipse that of their moderate kin, whose shrines and processions have become targets in Pakistan’s insurgency.
Relatives of victims comfort one another after Thursday night’s bloody attack by a pair of suicide bombers on a popular Sufi Muslim shrine in the Pakistani city of Lahore.