Pakistan Suicide attack kills 18 amid fears of more attacks

 05 Oct 2017 - 20:38

Pakistan Suicide attack kills 18 amid fears of more attacks
FILE PHOTO: The feet of an injured man are seen covered in blood after a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, January 10, 2017 (Reuters / Mohammad Ismail)

AFP

Quetta:  A suicide attacker blew himself up outside a Sufi shrine in southwest Pakistan Thursday, killing 18 people amid threats of more attacks in the terror-striken nation, officials said.

The incident follows a deadly bomb blast at the same shrine in the oil and gas rich Balochistan province in 2005, which killed 35 people.

"A suicide bomber blew himself up after he was intercepted by police guards on duty outside the shrine, killing 18 people including three children under the age of 12 and two policemen, and wounding at least 27 others, 14 of them seriously," provincial home secretary Akbar Harifal told AFP.

Provincial home minister Sarfaraz Bugti confirmed the toll.

The incident occurred as Muslims attended annual celebrations of a local saint. Members of Sunni and Shiite sects make daily visits to the shrine in Jhal Magsi district but attendance climbs significantly during festivities.

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 terror attack in Pakistan to undo our gains in the fight against terrorism," military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor told a press briefing Thursday.

Ghafoor did not 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".

Pakistan has launched a series of military offensives since 2007 in its tribal badlands near the Afghan border to cleanse these areas of homegrown as well as Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants.

Harifal said the seriously injured patients from Thursday's blast were being airlifted to southern Sindh province in the absence of adequate medical facilities in restive Balochistan.

The explosion triggered panic, with worshippers shouting and running in different directions, officials at the site told AFP. Limbs of the dead and injured lay in pools of blood.

"The suicide bomber struck outside the shrine at a time when it was packed with people attending anniversary celebrations of Syed Cheesal Shah," said senior local administration official Asad Kakar, referring to the local saint.

Balochistan government spokesman Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said there were confirmed reports of a suicide attack.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but militants and separatists have repeatedly targeted minority Shiite Muslims at religious sites, as well as security officials.

Balochistan is afflicted by Islamist militancy, sectarian violence and a separatist insurgency.

Sectarian violence -- in particular by Sunni hardliners against Shiites who make up roughly 20 percent of Pakistan's 200 million people -- has claimed thousands of lives in the country over the past decade.

Balochistan is the largest of Pakistan's four provinces, but its roughly seven million inhabitants have long complained they do not receive a fair share of its gas and mineral wealth.

A greater push towards peace and development by Pakistani authorities has reduced violence considerably in recent years.

But the remnants of militant groups are still able to carry out periodic bloody attacks, particularly in the northwest.

Several million Muslims in Pakistan are still believed to follow Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam whose wandering holy men helped spread the religion throughout the Indian subcontinent in the 13th century.

However, it has been overtaken in recent decades by more conservative versions of the faith.