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Friday 22 September 2017

Dozens killed in suicide bombing at Pakistan shrine

Hospital staff in Pakistan make arrangements outside an emergency ward for the victims of suicide bombing (AP/Shakil Adil)
Hospital staff in Pakistan make arrangements outside an emergency ward for the victims of suicide bombing (AP/Shakil Adil)

An Islamic State suicide bomber has targeted worshippers at a famous shrine in southern Pakistan, killing at least 75 people and wounding more than 200 others, officials said.

Three security officials confirmed the death toll, saying those killed included 20 women and nine children.

They said the suicide bomber walked through a gold-plated door and entered the main hall of the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar before setting off his bomb amid a gathering of worshippers.

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

The Sunni extremist group views Shiites as apostates and has targeted Pakistan's Shiite minority in the past.

Raja Somro, who witnessed the attack, told a local TV network that hundreds of people were performing a spiritual dance known as the Dhamal when the bomber struck.

"I saw bodies everywhere. I saw bodies of women and children," he said.

Ghazanfar Shah, the custodian of the site, said security was lax at the shrine, which is entered through two gold-plated doors.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed that security forces would track down the perpetrators of the attack, according to Pakistani state TV.

"Each drop of the nation's blood shall be avenged, and avenged immediately," Pakistan's army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, said in a statement. "No more restraint for anyone."

Thursday's attack was the deadliest in Pakistan since December 16 2014, when militants assaulted an army-run school in Peshawar, killing 154 people, mostly schoolchildren.

Pakistan has been at war with the Taliban and other extremist groups for more than a decade. In recent years it has launched major offensives against militant strongholds in the tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan, but insurgents have continued to carry out attacks elsewhere in the country.

The Islamic State group has been expanding its presence in Pakistan in recent years and has claimed a number of deadly attacks, including a suicide bombing at another shrine in November 2016 that killed more than 50 people.

AP

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