Qalandar shrine bombing death toll climbs to 83
Shahbaz says Rangers operation in Punjab, if needed; Lahore bombing facilitator identified; attack planned in Afghanistan; Afghan national carried out attack; suicide vest brought to Lahore from Peshawar by truck; CM asks Afghan refugees to point out suspects in their ranks or the law will take its course
KARACHI: The death toll in the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine suicide bombing rose to 83 on Friday after another three victims succumbed to their injuries at the Sehwan Hospital.
More than 250 injured persons are being treated at different hospitals in Sehwan, Jamshoro, Nawabshah, Hyderabad and Karachi.A spokesman for Edhi said the attacker appeared to have targeted the women wing of the packed shrine and around 30 children accompanying their mothers were dead.
Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack, the group’s affiliated news agency Amaq reported.The recent violence has shattered a period of improving security, underscoring how militants still undermine stability in the country of 190 million people.
The high death toll at the shrine makes it one of the worst attacks in Pakistan in recent years.In August last year, at least 74 people, mostly lawyers, were killed during a suicide bombing at a hospital in the southwestern city of Quetta.
In November, an explosion claimed by the Islamic State ripped through a Muslim shrine in southwestern Pakistan, killing at least 52 people and wounding scores.
The Pakistan Army, which has cracked down on insurgent groups in recent years leading to a sharp drop in militant violence, vowed a swift, decisive response.
“Each drop of nation’s blood shall be revenged immediately. No more restraint for anyone,” Army Chief Qamar Bajwa said in a statement.
Shortly after the blast, the army announced it was closing the border with Afghanistan with immediate effect for security reasons. Insurgents operate on either side of the neighbours’ long and porous frontier.
The bomber entered the shrine as crowds massed on Thursday, a statement from the Sindh Police spokesman said.The nearest major hospital was nearly an hour’s drive away in Dadu district.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif quickly condemned the bombing, decrying the assault on the Sufis.He vowed to fight militants, who target the government, the judiciary and anyone who does not adhere to their own interpretation of 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 or scare us. We must stand united in this struggle for the Pakistani identity and the universal humanity.”
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.
Thursdays are an especially important day for local Sufis, meaning that the shrine was packed at the time of blast.Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif on Friday said a Rangers operation would be launched in the province if need be, adding that the enemies will fail in their designs to destabilise Pakistan.
Addressing a press conference here, he claimed that the facilitator-cum-handler and his accomplices responsible for planning and carrying out the deadly suicide attack in Lahore on February 13 had been arrested.
Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, Chief Secretary Zahid Saeed, IGP Punjab Mushtaq Sukhera and other officials were also present on the occasion.
Shahbaz said the facilitator, identified as Anwaarul Haq of Bajaur Agency, had been arrested.He said the attack was planned in Afghanistan and an Afghan national, identified as Nasrullah of Kunar province of Afghanistan, carried out the attack on The Mall.
The chief minister praised the Punjab Police, Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) of the Punjab and Intelligence Bureau (IB) for rounding up the facilitator and his accomplices within a few days of the blast in which 15 people, including DIG Traffic Syed Ahmed Mobin and SSP Zahid Gondal, were martyred and 85 others injured.
“Terrorism from Afghanistan is a serious thing and I’m sure the premier is taking up the issue with the Afghan leadership. I would suggest that the PM should immediately call a meeting of the leadership of all the provinces to discuss the recent terror wave and identify how to deal with this menace,” he added.
He appealed to all the Afghan refugees to identify the black sheep in their ranks as it has been established that Afghan nationals were involved in the latest terrorist activities in Pakistan.
“Please point out all the suspects in your ranks, otherwise the law will take its course,” he warned.
To a question, the chief minister said law-enforcement agencies such as police, CTD, IB, ISI and MI were coordinating with each other in the Punjab to fight this menace and many a time they had foiled terrorist attempts. “The federal agencies help us whenever we need their support,” he added.
To a question about the establishment of military courts, he made it clear that the PML-N fully supported the cause as these courts had helped a lot in discouraging terrorism in the country.
“The military courts have had a great impact in reducing terror-related activities in the country.”Shahbaz also made it clear that his government had almost wiped out all the sleeper cells of terrorists across Punjab and efforts were under way to also destroy all their facilitators.
Without mentioning the name of PTI Chairman Imran Khan, the chief minister also took him to task saying, “Unfortunately a leader of a political party criticised the Punjab government and police even on the day of blast in Lahore. We shouldn’t indulge in point-scoring at this moment, as we need unity and strength to fight the evil of terrorism. I appeal to such politicians to consider such matters as national issues and avoid blame game,” he said.
“We will take revenge of every drop of blood in the fight against terrorism,” the CM announced.He condoled with the families saying he himself was visiting the houses of everyone who had lost lives in the Lahore blast.
On the occasion, a video statement of the accused Anwaar-ul-Haq was also aired in which he confessed to facilitating the suicide bomber. “I’m a member of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and my organisational name is Abu Hurairah”.
Anwaar, in his thirties, further stated in the video statement that he had visited Afghanistan over a dozen times for training in terrorist activities in Pakistan. Anwaar has been living in Lahore since 2001.
The facilitator also told the investigators that the attack was planned in Afghanistan. He further said they had carried out recce before executing the blast on The Mall on February 13.
“Umar Khurasani ordered us to carry out the attack on the police in Lahore. Around 20 to 25 days before the attack, I received the suicide vest from one Arif,” he said in the statement, adding he brought the vest to Lahore from Peshawar by a truck by paying Rs200,000.
Anwaar further said he himself went to Peshawar and received the suicide bomber Nasrullah and brought him to Lahore.