Islamic State attack in Pakistan kills 72

During the evening of February 16, 2017, a suicide bomber attacked the Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, Pakistan. At least 72 fatalities and 250 injuries have been reported. Edhi Welfare Trust, the nation’s largest ambulance service, notes that the attack appeared to target the women’s’ wing. The nearest major hospital is about 45 minutes away from the shrine. Over 30 mothers visiting the shrine with their children were killed in the attack. According to Senior Police Officer Shabbir Sethar, the death toll is likely to rise. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The high death toll makes the attack one of the worst attacks in recent years. Last August in Quetta, a city in southwest Pakistan, over 74 people were killed. The Islamic State killed 52 people later that year in an attack on a Muslim shrine. The Sufi shrine attack comes after reports of the reunification of Taliban factions. Some of these factions have ties with the Afghanistan-Pakistan chapter of the Islamic State.

Army Chief Qamar Bajwa vowed that “Each drop of nation’s blood shall be revenged, and revenged immediately.” The army announced that it will close the border with Afghanistan for security reasons, as insurgents operate on both sides of the border. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack and promised to fight Islamist militants, who also target the Pakistani government and judiciary. Sharif also called for Pakistani unity, “we can’t let these events divide us, or scare us. We must stand united in this struggle for the Pakistani identity, and universal humanity.” Pakistani officials have long been urging Afghanistan to eliminate safe-havens for anti-Pakistani militants.

Sufism is a religious minority in Pakistan. It is an ancient mystic branch of Islam. Because Thursdays are important in Sufism, the shrine was near peak crowding at the time of the bombing. Many Sunni militant groups, particularly in Pakistan, despise Sufis and other religious minorities and view them as heretics.