Texarkana Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - By Adil Jawad and Mu­nir Ahmed

KARACHI, Pak­istan—An Is­lamic State sui­cide bomber struck in­side a famed shrine in south­ern Pak­istan on Thurs­day, killing at least 75 peo­ple in the dead­li­est at­tack in the coun­try in more than two years.

The bomber en­tered the main hall of the shrine of Lal Shah­baz Qa­lan­dar in Se­hwan and det­o­nated his pay­load amid dozens of wor­ship­pers, ac­cord­ing to three se­cu­rity of­fi­cials, who said at least 20 women and nine chil­dren were among the dead.

The of­fi­cials spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rized to brief re­porters. Fazal Palejo, a se­nior health of­fi­cial in Sindh prov­ince, con­firmed the toll.

The Is­lamic State group claimed the at­tack in a state­ment cir­cu­lated by its Aa­maq news agency, say­ing it had tar­geted a “Shi­ite gath­er­ing.” The Sunni ex­trem­ist group views Shi­ites as apos­tates and has tar­geted Pak­istan’s Shi­ite mi­nor­ity in the past. It views Sufi shrines like the one tar­geted Thurs­day as a form of idol­a­try.

Raja Somro, who wit­nessed the at­tack, told a lo­cal TV net­work that hun­dreds of peo­ple were per­form­ing a spir­i­tual dance known as the Dhamal when the bomber struck.

“I saw bodies ev­ery­where. I saw bodies of women and chil­dren,” he said.

Lo­cal TV showed graphic footage of the af­ter­math of the blast, with wounded wor­ship­pers cry­ing out for help and the floors cov­ered with shoes, blood and body parts. Women cried and beat their chests in grief.

Ghaz­an­far Shah, the cus­to­dian of the site, said se­cu­rity was lax at the shrine, which is en­tered through two gold-plated doors.

Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif vowed that se­cu­rity forces would track down the perpetrators of the at­tack, ac­cord­ing to Pak­istani state TV.

“Each drop of the na­tion’s blood shall be avenged, and avenged im­me­di­ately,” Pak­istan’s army chief, Gen. Qa­mar Javed Ba­jwa, said in a state­ment. “No more re­straint for any­one.”

The U.S. State Depart­ment con­demned the at­tack and of­fered its sup­port to Pak­istan in bring­ing the perpetrators to jus­tice.

“We stand with the peo­ple of Pak­istan in their fight against ter­ror­ism and re­main com­mit­ted to the se­cu­rity of the South Asia re­gion,” said a state­ment by act­ing State Depart­ment spokesman Mark Toner.

Thurs­day’s at­tack was the dead­li­est in Pak­istan since Dec. 16, 2014, when mil­i­tants as­saulted an army-run school in Pe­shawar, killing 154 peo­ple, mostly school­child­ren.

Pak­istan has been at war with the Tal­iban and other ex­trem­ist groups for more than a decade. In re­cent years it has launched ma­jor of­fen­sives against mil­i­tant strongholds in the tribal re­gions along the bor­der with Afghanistan, but in­sur­gents have con­tin­ued to carry out at­tacks else­where in the coun­try.

The Is­lamic State group has been ex­pand­ing its pres­ence in Pak­istan in re­cent years and has claimed a num­ber of deadly at­tacks, in­clud­ing a sui­cide bomb­ing at an­other shrine in Novem­ber 2016 that killed more than 50 peo­ple.

The gov­ern­ment has down­played the IS af­fil­i­ate, in­sist­ing that only a small num­ber of mil­i­tants have pledged al­le­giance to the group.

Afghanistan and Pak­istan have long ac­cused each other of fail­ing to crack down on mil­i­tants who op­er­ate along the por­ous bor­der.

The army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, said acts of ter­ror­ism were be­ing car­ried out “from hos­tile pow­ers and from sanc­tu­ar­ies in Afghanistan,” with­out elab­o­rat­ing. Pak­istan closed the main Torkham bor­der cross­ing with Afghanistan shortly after the at­tack.

Ahmed re­ported from Islamabad. As­so­ci­ated Press writ­ers Riaz Khan in Pe­shawar, Pak­istan and Muham­mad Fa­rooq in Jam Shoro, Pak­istan contributed to this re­port

AP Photo/Shakil Adil

n Pak­istani stu­dents light can­dles to con­demn the Thurs­day at­tack on a shrine in in­te­rior Sind prov­ince in Karachi, Pak­istan. An Is­lamic State sui­cide bomber tar­geted wor­ship­pers at a fa­mous shrine in south­ern Pak­istan on Thurs­day, killing dozens of wor­ship­pers and leav­ing hun­dreds wounded, of­fi­cials said.

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