At least 52 people have died and over 100 others injured in a bomb blast at a remote Sufi shrine in Balochistan province, officials said, with the Islamic State militant group claiming the attack.
The explosion targeted worshippers participating in a ceremony at the shrine of Sufi saint Shah Noorani, some 750 kilometers south of provincial capital Quetta.
“At least 52 people have been killed and some 105 others wounded,” said provincial Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti, adding that there were women and children among the victims.
Local officials said worshippers were participating in a devotional dance session, which is held daily before dusk, when the blast occurred. Authorities said they had dispatched ambulances and medical workers from Karachi, a three-hour drive from the shrine—which is located in a remote, mountainous region with limited emergency facilities.
The shrine is revered and visited both by minority Shia and Sunni Muslims, but militant groups like the Taliban and Islamic State consider the practice against Islam. I.S. claimed responsibility for the attack via its affiliated news agency Amaq, saying that a suicide bomber targeting the shrine had killed around 35 people and injured 95 others. A senior administrator from the region also told Newsweek that the blast had been a suicide attack, adding that 8kg of explosives had been used with ball bearings to inflict maximum damage.
Local officials said that the attacker, allegedly a teenage boy, was believed to be an Afghan national.
According to an initial investigation report seen by Newsweek, there was no government security at the shrine, nor was there any walkthrough gate installed at the main entrance. “There were 12 Levies soldier present near the shrine, but they were not responsible for providing security to it,” it added.
Hafeez Ali, a 26-year-old mechanic from Karachi, said he was sitting on a hillside and watching the evening’s dance when he heard a loud noise and saw smoke rising. “We realized that it was a bomb blast. Two of us rushed down and saw the bodies scattered all around—mostly children. We also saw the drumbeater dead and his exploded drum was lying nearby,” Ali told AFP.
Ali said the shrine sits on a hill that devotees have to climb for half an hour as no road goes there, causing difficulties for rescuers.
Pakistan Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Asim Bajwa said 20 ambulances and 50 soldiers had reached the site, while a further 45 ambulances and 100 troops were on their way. A military helicopter would attempt evacuations at night, he added, but medical teams could not access the area by plane as there were no air strips close by.
Four bodies and 21 of the injured had arrived in Karachi’s Civil Hospital, officials said.
President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the bombing in separate statements. “The government is determined to eliminate terrorism and extremists from the country,” Hussain said in a statement expressing sympathy with the victims and their families. A statement from Sharif’s office said the prime minister called for the “best medical treatment” to be given to the wounded.
Up to 600 people were at the shrine at the time of the attack, according to local official Tariq Mengal, who told Geo TV that many devotees traveled to the site from Karachi during weekends.