An explosion near a shrine in southern Pakistan on February 17th killed at least 75 people and wounded several dozen. It was the latest in a string of blasts this week, according to police. The blast went off near the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in the town of Sehwan in Sindh province. According to reports, Islamic State’s Khorasan Province group claimed responsibility for the bomb blast.
An ancient mystic branch of Islam, Sufism has been practiced in Pakistan for centuries. Most of the country’s radical Sunni militant groups despise Sufi and Shia Muslims, as heretics. This bombing was intended to be an assault on the Sufi religious minority. Pakistan’s Sufi shrines, where worshipers express devotion through songs and dance, have been repeatedly attacked by Islamist militants who consider the Sufi tradition un-Islamic. Lal Shahbaz Qalander is Pakistan’s most revered Sufi shrine, dedicated to a 13th-century saint whose spirit is invoked by devotees in ecstatic daily dancing and singing rituals in Sehwan Sharif.
The blast, in one of the country’s most popular shrines, is the deadliest in Pakistan this year. The shrine was crowded as Thursday is considered a sacred day for Muslims who pray there. The bomber entered the shrine through its Golden gate and blew himself up near the site where the ritual dance ‘Dhamal’ was taking place. Hundreds of devotees were inside the vast mausoleum of the saint at the time of the blast.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif immediately condemned the attack and vowed to fight the militants who have carried out attacks targeting the government and those who do not adhere to their interpretation of Sunni Islam. “The past few days have been hard, and my heart is with the victims.” Sharif said. “But we can’t let these events divide us, or scare us. We must stand united in this struggle for the Pakistani identity, and universal humanity.”
Pakistan has claimed that it has made significant progress in its fight against terrorism. However, this bombing and another three months ago, both in Sufi shrines in remote parts of Baluchistan, prove to be setbacks. It is still far to early claim victory against terrorism.
(The exact number of casualties was not clear at the time of this report.)
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