QUETTA: A brief lull in terrorist violence ended on Thursday evening when a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest at the entrance to a Sufi saint’s shrine in Jhal Magsi district of Balochistan, killing at least 18 devotees and injuring over two dozens more.
The suicide bomber blew himself up after he was stopped at the entrance to Dargah Fatehpur in the Gandawah area of Jhal Magsi district, some 266 kilometres away from Quetta, officials said.
The regional franchise of ultra-extremist Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack via its Amaq news service, according to Reuters news agency.
The bomber struck when the shrine was packed with devotees for the annual urs celebration of the Sufi saint Syed Cheezal Shah, they added. The shrine is located in a small town of Sohbatpur which lies on the confluence of borders between Sindh and Balochistan.
“The bomber was intercepted by a police guard at the entrance to the shrine. Failing to enter the premises, he triggered the explosives strapped to his body,” said SSP Jhal Magsi Muhammad Iqbal. “Apparently, he wanted to target the devotees gathered in the main compound of the shrine.”
Home Secretary Akbar Harifal endorsed the account and confirmed that at least 18 people – including three children below the age of 12, and two policemen – have been killed. Another 27 people have been injured – 14 of them critically, he added.
Local administration official Asad Kakar said the bomber struck at a time when the shrine was packed with devotees. Provincial government spokesman Anwaarul Haq Kakar also confirmed it was a suicide attack.
Law enforcers threw a security cordon around the shrine soon after the bombing as rescuers ferried the casualties to the District Headquarters Hospital (DHQ) in Jhal Magsi. “We have received 18 bodies and 25 injured,” said Dr Rukhsana Magsi, the medical superintendent of the hospital.
She added that 12 injured have been shifted to hospitals in Larkana, Shahdad Kot and Jacobabad for treatment of their life-threatening wounds.
Provincial Health Minister Rehmat Saleh Baloch declared a state of emergency in hospitals in the nearby Dera Allah Yar and Sibi districts to ensure all victims were properly attended to.
It was the second deadliest attack on Dargah Fateh Pur. Earlier, 49 devotees had been killed in a bombing at the same shrine on March 20, 2005.
“The brave police constable, Bahar Khan, laid down his life but saved several countless devotees by stopping the bomber from entering the main compound,” Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti said.
Officials said the attack came amid a new terror threat from four foreign agencies hostile to Pakistan.
“I can tell you that four hostile agencies are planning a major terror attack in Pakistan to undo our gains in the fight against terrorism,” chief military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor told a press briefing Thursday.
He didn’t disclose the names of the foreign agencies or their origin but added that “no organised infrastructure of any terrorist outfit exists anywhere in Pakistan now”.
Balochistan has seen a surge in attacks on Sufi shrines during the past many years. Earlier, a suicide attack on at Dargah Shah Noorani, near Khuzdar, killed 45 people on November 2016.
(With additional input from Agencies)