Wednesday 20th June, 2018
24 ℃ | 32 ℃Singapore

SINDH, Pakistan - At least 75 people were killed when an Islamic State suicide bomber struck inside a well-known Sufi shrine in southern Pakistan on Thursday in the deadliest attack in the country in more than two years.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement circulated by its Aamaq news agency, saying it had targeted a "Shiite gathering." 

The suicide attack occurred at Pakistan's packed 800-year-old Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in Sindh province.

More than 200 people were injured in the attack which took place at a time when thousands of worshippers, including families with their children, had gathered at the shrine for the Sufi ritual of Dhamal, which involves music, chanting and prayer.

“I saw bodies everywhere. I saw bodies of women and children,” a witness, Raja Somro was quoted as saying in a Guardian report.

Officials have warned that the death toll is likely to rise.

Footage of the devastating attack on television showed army and paramilitary medical teams reaching the site and injured people being taken to nearby hospitals in ambulances and a military helicopter.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called the attack "brutal."

"I have directed all the state institutions to mobilize all resources for rescue and relief after this brutal terror attack on Lal Shahbaz Qalandar's shrine," Sharif said in a statement.

Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, spokesman for the Pakistan military, tweeted, "Recent Ts (Terrorist) acts are being exec (Executed) on directions from hostile powers and from sanctuaries in Afghanistan. We shall defend and respond."

In another tweet, he said, "Your security forces shall not allow hostile powers to succeed. We stand for our nation."

He also announced later that the Pakistan-Afghanistan border was "closed with immediate effects till further orders due to security reasons."

Meanwhile, in a crackdown in response to the attack, Sindh Rangers claimed to have killed 18 terrorists overnight in different areas of Karachi, while police in Peshawar said seven terrorists had been killed as part of intelligence-based operations.

"Both the federal and provincial law enforcement authorities and police started a crackdown across the country before dawn, and scores of suspects have been arrested from different cities,” a government official speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP.

The United States in a statement strongly condemned the attack and offered its support to the government of Pakistan.

“We extend our condolences to the victims and their families and wish a full recovery for all of those injured. We also offer our support to the Government of Pakistan as it works to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice,” U.S. State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said.

On Monday, in another brutal attack, at least 14 people and 59 others were injured in a bomb attack in Lahore. 

Jamat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for that attack.

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