On Thursday, twin blasts struck a Sufi shrine in Karachi, killing at least 5 people and injuring at least 40 others (the Express Tribune reports 10 killed and over 50 injured), just a few months after 40 people were killed in an attack on the Data Darbar shrine in Lahore. According to Al Jazeera English’s correspondent, the incident at the Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine appears to have been perpetrated by suicide bombers.The Express Tribune spoke to eyewitnesses, who said the first blast occurred when “a guard tried to stop a suicide bomber and he blew himself up.” The News provided more [horrific] details, noting, “Two heads, believed to be of the bombers, have been recovered from the blasts site where severed limbs and human flesh littered the ground, sources said.”
BBC News cited President Zardari who said the attack occurred when people gathered to hand out food to the poor. The Associated Press added in its coverage, “Thousands typically visit that shrine on a Thursday, praying, distribute food to the poor and toss rose petals on the grave of the saint.” Zardari told reporters, “The relentless attacks on ordinary Pakistani citizens by those who want to impose an extremist mindset and lifestyle upon our country will not deter our government and the Pakistan Peoples Party. We remain committed to fighting these murderers and expelling them from our land.”
Although no group has yet claimed responsibility for the blasts, Al Jazeera’s correspondent noted the attack bears “the hallmarks of a Taliban attack.” Express reports that all shrines in Karachi have been closed, as well as the Bibi Pak Daman shrine in Lahore.
CHUP will provide further updates on this story.
UPDATE 1140 [EST]: According to the Associated Press, a Pakistani Ranger said some “suspicious packages” were found at the blast site. Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza told reporters, “We have provided the best available security at this shrine. Humanly, it is not possible to stop suicide bombers intent on exploding themselves.” Meanwhile, GEO News quoted Secretary Auqaf Sindh who said they “had not received any security threat from the Interior Ministry and there were no security cameras installed inside the shrine.”
UPDATE 1330 [EST]: The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, news agencies report, while authorities say schools will remain open tomorrow. According to the Associated Press, “The first explosion took place as the suspected bomber was going through the metal detector before a long staircase leading to the main shrine area, said Babar Khattak, the top police official in Sindh province. The second blast took place about 10 seconds later, farther ahead of the metal detector, he said.”
Some people are questioning whether the presence of security cameras in the Sufi shrine would have made a difference in stopping this attack. My thought? Hindsight is 20/20, but if the suicide bombers entered the shrine during a busy period, amid throngs of people, security cameras would have done very little.
UPDATE 1430 [EST]: Fahad Desmukh has some insightful sound bites on his blog from speaking to people at the shrine just after the blasts occurred. See here.
The Data Darbar shrine bombings spurred a lot of conversation about Sufism in Pakistan. The truth is that Sufism, or mystical Islam, is arguably not an “antidote” to Islamist extremism, but it is an embedded part of the Pakistani culture, an integral part of our narrative. Abdullah Shah Ghazi was an 8th century Sufi saint credited with bringing Islam to the region along the coast. His shrine is believed to protect Karachi from cyclones and other sea-related disasters. A BBC article written five years ago about the shrine noted, “Although Thursdays are traditionally holy nights when devotees pray at Sufi shrines, the revelry at Shah Ghazi seems to have little to do with prayer,” adding that music, dance, and drugs “are the traditional vehicles of devotion.”
BBC reported, “The Sufi shrines offer the underclass spiritual sustenance, a social valve of entertainment, and a safety net of free rations. It is a bond that has not been loosened by militant Islam.”