Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Wave of Grief and Anger After a Pakistani Shrine Is Bombed

Hundreds of protesters — enraged, inconsolable and demanding justice — converged outside a revered shrine in southern Pakistan on Friday, one day after an Islamic State suicide bomber killed more than 80 people in the country’s deadliest attack in years.
As families held the first funerals for the victims, many of them women and children, protesters clashed with the police and set fire to a car before the authorities dispersed the crowds using tear gas and batons.
The din of clashes and lamentations on Friday was in stark contrast to a day earlier, when hundreds of pilgrims thronged the gold-domed shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in the southern province of Sindh, for a celebration of traditional music and the spiritual dance known as dhamal.
“After the blast, everyone present at the shrine was running, shouting and searching for their families,” said Faraz Hussain, 30, who had traveled to the shrine from his home in Karachi. “It was like doomsday.”
More than 250 people were wounded in the explosion, and local hospitals were quickly overwhelmed. Military aircraft were employed to take the wounded to hospitals as far away as Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, about 180 miles from the shrine. On Friday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, chief of army staff, visited Sehwan and Nawabshah, where many of the wounded were taken for treatment.
One senior police official, Raja Umar Khitab, who is leading the forensic investigation, said the bomber’s suicide vest was filled with shrapnel, including ball bearings, bolts and screws, intended to inflict mass casualties.
“It is the reason for the high death toll,” he said.
The bombing, one of several deadly attacks this week, has shaken Pakistan’s leadership.
“It is a very ugly development,” said Afrasiab Khattak, an opposition politician and newspaper columnist. “The timing and the scale of the targets suggests it is a big plan to destabilize Pakistan.”
On Thursday, the Islamic State, the extreme Sunni militant organization based in Syria and Iraq, announced that its branch in the region had carried out the attack.
But the Pakistani military played down the role of the terrorist group, seeing instead old foes’ fingerprints on the attack. Military officials blamed Afghanistan for harboring Pakistani Taliban militants in its territory.
Afghan officials were summoned on Friday to the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and handed a list of 76 terrorists whom the Pakistani military wants targeted, said Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, the chief military spokesman.
The military also claimed that at least 100 terrorists had been killed in operations that began Thursday night, though there were few details.
Senior security officials also implicated Pakistan’s archrival, India, suggesting that an Indian intelligence agency might have been behind the attack to scuttle cooperation between Pakistan and China.
Some officials, however, said the threat posed by the Islamic State could not be ignored.
“At a time when space is shrinking for the Islamic State in the Middle East, it is trying to establish itself in this region,” Mr. Khattak, the opposition politician, said. “There are many groups here that are aligned with its ideology.”

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