Survivors of a massive bomb attack on a shrine in southwest Pakistan that killed dozens spoke of their horror Sunday after families were ripped apart in a strike showing the expanding reach of the Islamic State group.
The blast, later confirmed to be the work of a teenage suicide bomber, hit worshippers as they were dancing and chanting at the shrine of the Sufi saint Shah Noorani some 750 kilometres (460 miles) south of Quetta, the provincial capital of restive southern Balochistan province.
Mohammad Shehzad, a 25-year-year old who had travelled in a group of 120 pilgrims, told AFP: “The pressure of the blast was so strong, people were blown away. Everyone was running, shouting and searching for families.
“Children were looking for the mothers and fathers. People looking for brothers and sisters but no one able was to listen to their cries.”
The attack killed 52 and wounded more than 105 and was the fourth deadliest in Pakistan this year. Stricken survivors swathed themselves in blankets and braved the cold under open skies overnight as they made their way homes.
Many had travelled hundreds of kilometres to pay their respects to their favoured saint and seek blessings, in line with their Sufi beliefs that worships through music and is viewed as heretical by hardline militant groups.
Other witnesses said problems were compounded by the fact it took several hours for rescue services to reach the remote shrine, located on a hilltop in the Khuzdar district of Balochistan several kilometres away from surrounding villages with poor mobile network coverage.
Hafeez Ali, a 28-year-old auto mechanic, said: “We had left the area only five minutes before the attack to go and cook our dinner. From our viewpoint on a higher hill point, we could see three whirling dervishes dancing to a drummer, as hundreds formed a circle around them. Then came the blast.
“We realised that it was a bomb blast. Two of us rushed down and saw the bodies scattered all around -- mostly children. We also saw the drum beater dead and his exploded drum was lying nearby.”
Sarfraz Bugti, the province’s home minister, told AFP the blast was a suicide attack carried out by a teenager. “We have found body parts of the bomber which place his age at around 16 to 18,” he said.
It was the second major attack claimed by the Islamic State group in as many months, following a raid on a police academy in the same province that killed 61 people.
Militant sources in the province have told AFP that IS, which had earlier struggled to gain a foothold in Pakistan because of competition from already established groups, has now forged alliances with local affiliates including the anti-Shiite Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group.