Sindh in mourning as death toll jumps to 88

Investigators struggle to find clues with the help of CCTV footage


Z Ali February 18, 2017
A man mourns the death of a relative who was killed in a suicide blast at the tomb of Sufi saint Syed Usman Marwandi, also known as the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine, on Thursday evening in Sehwan Sharif, Pakistan's southern Sindh province, February 17, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

HYDERABAD: The country mourned Thursday’s deadly bombing at the shrine of a revered Sufi saint in the town of Sehwan in Sindh as the death toll jumped to 88, with several others fighting for their lives at different hospitals of the province.

Undeterred by the bloodbath, devotees of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar said they would not give in to the intolerant and myopic ideology of the terrorists.

On Friday, police and paramilitary Rangers cordoned off the shrine, situated some 200 kilometres northeast of Karachi. The white floor was smeared with blood, with shoes, shawls, and baby bottles scattered on it. At 3:30 am the shrine’s caretaker stood among the carnage and defiantly rang its bell, a daily ritual that he vowed to continue, saying he will “not bow down to the terrorists.”

The Sindh Health Department said the number of fatalities had soared to 88, including at least 20 children, making it the deadliest attack in the country since the 2014 execution-style killing of 150-plus pupils and staff at Peshawar’s Army Public School.

World condemns Sehwan attack

Rural Sindh wore a sombre and gloomy look as families buried their loved ones. Some of the victims had come from as far as Punjab and Balochistan to pay their respect at the shrine of the popular, 13-century Sufi saint. “We have buried nine people in Nawab Khan Palari village and three in Hameed Palari village,” Ibrahim Palari, who lost his daughter in Thursday’s suicide blast, told The Express Tribune. The 12 victims – seven children, three women and two men – belonged to the two villages in Nooriabad, Jamshoro district. Of all the deceased, 20 belonged to Jamshoro, 12 to Larkana, and eight to Qambar Shahdadkot district.

As many as 343 people were injured when the suicide bomber had struck in the midst of devotees performing dhamaal (ecstatic devotional dance) inside the shrine. Of them, 76 are still hospitalised – some of them have lost their limbs.

The sickening bloodbath failed to deter the devotees who flocked to the shrine in large numbers on Friday, even though it was partially sealed by authorities for security reasons. The rush of the devotees forced the authorities to reopen the shrine for devotees.

Investigations

Security agencies, meanwhile, scrambled to find clues to the bomber who unleashed carnage at the shrine. Auqaf Secretary Riaz Soomro said 36 closed-circuit TV cameras were installed in and outside the shrine to monitor the movement of devotees. “Investigators have taken the captured footage into custody,” he told The Express Tribune.

Soomro denied a news report attributed to him that a staffer of Auqaf at the CCTV control room had spotted a suspicious person and conveyed the information as well. “It’s for the investigators to tell whether any suspicious activity or person had been seen [in the footage].”

Security sources said a burqa-clad suspect was seen at different locations in the shrine, moving stealthily and avoiding the CCTV cameras.

A Counter Terrorism Department official, who wished not to be named, told The Express Tribune that the bomber carried 10 to 12 kilos of explosives in the vest which was also packed with ball bearings to inflict maximum casualties. “Although it seems like a suicide attack, we are yet to establish it,” he added.

Over 100 militants killed in nationwide security crackdown following Sehwan blast

The official added that the investigators have taken DNA samples of a severed head from the bomb site. Unconfirmed reports, however, said that two severed heads had been found at the shrine. Police and CTD sources said six suspects from Sehwan and two from Hyderabad have been detained for interrogation.

Jamshoro’s Deputy Commissioner Munawar Mahesar told the media in Sehwan that the shrine had been sealed for the investigators to collect evidence. The dome and physical structure will also be examined by engineers. SSP Tariq Wilayat said 40 Rangers and 100 policemen have been deployed at the shrine.

PM’s visit

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa visited Sehwan on Friday but returned without visiting the shrine or the taluka hospital, where all the casualties were initially shifted to. At Sehwan airport, Premier Sharif and Gen Qamar were briefed by the provincial chief secretary about the incident, rescue measures and the victims.

Official sources said protests in Sehwan impeded the visit of the prime minister, who before coming to Sehwan went to the Peoples Medical University Hospital in Nawabshah to enquire after the injured.

The caretakers of various shrines in Sindh including that of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai gathered at Qalandar’s shrine before the PM’s visit. They were expected to stage a protest on his arrival.

“Despite visiting Sehwan he did not come to the shrine,” opposition leader Khursheed Shah said while talking to media in Sehwan. “Perhaps he was told about the security threats. At least [the] interior minister [Chaudhry Nisar] should have come.”

Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2017.

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