NEWS | Pakistan: Over 70 killed in suicide attack at Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine
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NEWS | Pakistan: Over 70 killed in suicide attack at Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine

NEWS | Pakistan: Over 70 killed in suicide attack at Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine

A senior Pakistani police official says the death toll from an Islamic State (IS) suicide bombing on February 16 at a crowded Sufi shrine in southern Pakistan has risen to 72 people, with more than 100 others wounded.

Aid workers at the scene of the tragedy say at least 30 children were among those killed.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif immediately condemned what he described as an attack on Lal Shahbaz Qalandar -- a Sufi philosopher and poet who has a shrine built in his honor at the site of his tomb in the town of Sehwan Sharif in the southern province of Sindh.

Senior police officer Shabbir Sethar said from a local hospital in Sehwan Sharif, that "at least 72 are dead and over 150 have been wounded," many of them seriously -- and that the death toll is likely to rise further.

A spokesman for the medical charity, Edhi, said the attacker appeared to have targeted the women's wing of the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine, and around 30 children who were accompanying their mothers at the time of the attack had been killed.

The attack at the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine is the deadliest in a wave of bombings to hit Pakistan during the past week as the Pakistani Taliban and other extremist Islamist militants carry out threats of a new offensive.

A post on the IS-linked Aamaq website claimed responsibility for the attack.

Thousands of devotees of Qalandar visit his tomb in Sehwan Sharif every Thursday -- and the shrine was particularly crowded on February 16, just three days before the 742nd anniversary of his death on February 19, 1275.

Three Days Of Mourning

One woman who survived the attack told the Dawn TV news channel that she was part of a group that was visiting the shrine "for the love of our saint, for the worship of Allah."

The woman, speaking with her headscarf streaked in blood, asked: "Who would hurt us when we were there for devotion?"

The government of Sindh Province on February 16 announced a three-day mourning period.  Meanwhile, Pakistani security officials say they have closed the Torkham border crossing into Afghanistan for an indefinite period for "security reasons."

A statement from Pakistan's Interservice Public Relations agency (ISPR), the military's media wing, said: "terrorist attacks were being executed on directions from hostile powers and from sanctuaries in Afghanistan."

Major General Asif Ghafoor, the director general of the ISI's public relations media wing, said the border crossing on the highway between Peshawar, Pakistan, and Jalalabad, Afghanistan would remain closed until "further orders."

Earlier on February 16, a landmine blast had killed an army captain and two army soldiers in Awaran area of Balochistan Province.

On February 15, two suicide attacks took place in northern Pakistan -- both claimed by Taliban militants.

One was in the Mohmand tribal district and the other, in the city of Peshawar, targeted court judges.

On February 13, a suicide attacker targeted protesters in the city of Lahore city killing 13 people, including senior police officers, and wounding more than 80 people.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, Dawn TV, and Geo TV

Copyright (c) 2017. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.