QUETTA: A suicide bomber detonated his vest in the midst of devotees at a packed shrine in a remote area of Khuzdar district Saturday evening, killing at least 52 and maiming more than 100. Officials fear the death toll might go up as rescuers were scrambling to reach the shrine, located in the dirt-poor mountainous region where medical facilities are limited.
The teenage bomber targeted a crowd of devotees performing dhamaal (devotional dance) at the shrine of Sufi saint Shah Noorani, some 750 kilometres south of provincial capital Quetta. “The bomber appeared to be 14 to 16 years old,” said Muhammad Hashim Ghalzai, the commissioner of Kalat division, of which Khuzdar is a district.
At least 45 dead, over 100 injured in Khuzdar’s Shah Noorani shrine explosion
SSP Jafar Khan said that around 1,000 devotees were present in the shrine when the bomber detonated the explosives strapped to his body. Provincial Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti confirmed 43 fatalities, though he could not provide a precise figure for those injured.
Rescue officials, however, confirmed to The Express Tribune that at least 50 devotees had been killed and more than 100 wounded in the deadly blast. They added that the casualties included a number of women and children.
According to witnesses and survivors, the bombing took place in a place reserved for the daily ritual of dhamaal. “Every day at sunset, there is a dhamaal session here and a large number of devotees turn up to perform the devotional dance to drumbeats,” he told The Express Tribune by phone.
The custodian of the shrine, Nawaz Ali, said 1,000 to 1,500 devotees participated in the dance on the night between Saturday and Sunday.
Chief military spokesperson Lieutenant General Asim Saleem Bajwa said troops and medical teams had been dispatched but that “difficult terrain and long distance” were hampering their progress.
He said that 20 ambulances and 50 soldiers were about to reach the site, while a further 45 ambulances and 100 troops were also on their way, along with medical teams. A military helicopter would attempt evacuations at night, he added, but medical teams could not access the area by plane as there were no air strips close by.
Balochistan government spokesman Anwarul Kakar said Chief Minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri was personally monitoring the situation.
He added that the casualties were being ferried to hospitals in the nearby industrial town of Hub and the port city of Karachi, where a state of emergency has been declared.
Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo said the suicide bombing could be a reprisal for the killing of a senior commander of a banned militant organisation. Jundullah chief Saqib, alias Arif alias Anjum Abbas, was taken down in a gunfight with security forces in Hub on Friday. His wife and nine-year-old son were also injured in the clash.
The carnage came a day before Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was scheduled to flag off the first shipment of trade goods from Gwadar port to international markets, marking the historic launch of trade activity through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
“Balochistan has become frontline state to bear the cost imposed on Pakistan for CPEC and India’a non-conventional warfare,” Jan Achakzai, special assistant to the chief minister, wrote on Twitter while commenting on the shrine bombing. However, Ports and Shipping Minister Bezenjo believes it could be linked to sectarianism and not CPEC.
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Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti, who briefed the media on the deadly blast in Gwadar, said that the provincial government has no helicopters to ferry the casualties from the site. “It’s not possible to fly helicopters for rescue in pitch darkness,” he added. “We have sent ambulances to the site.”
Chief Minister Zehri, who was in Gwadar for Sunday’s CPEC ceremony, directed that all available resources be utilised to ferry the injured to hospitals. “Terrorists cannot deter us with such attacks. Action against them will continue unabated,” he said while strongly condemning the bloody attack.
President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the bombing in separate statements. “The government is determined to eliminate terrorism and extremists from the country,” Mamnoon said in a statement expressing sympathy with the victims and their families.
A statement from Sharif’s office said the prime minister called for the “best medical treatment” to be given to the wounded.
The Islamic State terrorist group, also known by its Arabic acronym Da’ish, claimed responsibility for the attack via Amaq, its affiliated news agency.
Balochistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, is afflicted by Islamist militancy, sectarian violence and a separatist insurgency. Local militants claimed to have worked with Da’ish to attack a police academy in Balochistan last month, killing 61 people in the deadliest assault on a security installation in Pakistan’s history.
In August, a suicide bombing at a Quetta hospital claimed by the Islamic State group and a faction of the Pakistani Taliban killed 73 people.
(With additional input by wire services)
Published in The Express Tribune, November 13th, 2016.
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