Pakistan forces kill ‘over 100 terrorists’ after attack on shrine

Crackdown follows spate of bombings culminating in Lal Shahbaz Qalandar slaughter

Soldiers cordon off the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine, after the attack that killed 83 people. Photograph: Yousuf Nagori/AFP/Getty Images

Soldiers cordon off the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine, after the attack that killed 83 people. Photograph: Yousuf Nagori/AFP/Getty Images

 

Pakistani security forces killed dozens of suspected militants on Friday, a day after Islamic State claimed a suicide bombing that killed more than 80 worshippers at a Sufi shrine, the biggest in a spate of attacks this week across the country.

The bombing at the famed Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in southern Sindh province was Pakistan’s deadliest attack for two years, killing at least 83 people and highlighting the threat of militant groups such as the Pakistani Taliban and Islamic State.

The nationwide crackdown was swift.

“Over 100 terrorists have been killed since last night and sizeable apprehensions also made,” the military said in an operations update on Friday evening.

With authorities facing angry criticism for failing to tighten security before the shrine bomber struck, analysts warned that the wave of violence pointed to a major escalation in Islamist militants’ attempts to destabilise the region.

‘Declaration of war’

“This is a virtual declaration of war against the state of Pakistan, ” said Imtiaz Gul, head of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad.

With pressure growing for action, Pakistan demanded that neighbouring Afghanistan hand over 76 “terrorists” it said were sheltering over the border.

The bombings over five days have hit all four of Pakistan’s provinces and two major cities, shaking a nascent sense that the worst of the country’s militant violence may be in the past.

A series of military operations against insurgent groups operating in Pakistan had encouraged hopes that their leaders were scattered.

“But this has led to a degree of complacency within our civil-military leadership that perhaps they have completely destroyed these elements, or broken their back,” Mr Gul said.

If so, that impression has been shattered in recent days.

At Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, the white marble floor was still stained with blood on Friday, and a pile of shoes and slippers was heaped in the courtyard, many of them belonging to the dead.

Outside, protesters shouted slogans at police, who they said had failed to protect the shrine.

“I wish I could have been here and died in the blast last night,” Ali Hussain said, sitting on the floor of the shrine.

Security request

He said local Sufis had asked for more security after a separate bombing this week killed 13 people in the eastern city of Lahore, but added: “No one bothered to secure this place.”

Anwer Ali (25) rushed to the shrine after he heard the explosion, and described seeing dead bodies and chaos as people fled the scene.

“There were threats to the shrine. The Taliban had warned that they will attack here, but authorities didn’t take it seriously,” Mr Ali said.

Sindh police chief AD Khawaja said on Friday that the death toll had reached 83 people with scores more wounded.

The attacks have once again raised questions over the influence of Islamic State in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 190 million people that has tense relations with its neighbours India and Afghanistan.

– Reuters