Thursday, 16 February 2017

Islamic State claims suicide attack on shrine in Pakistan; 88 killed

At least 57 dead as bomb rips through Lal Shahbaz shrine in Sehwan, Sindh

At least 57 people have been killed and more than 100 injured in a suicide attack on the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan on Thursday evening.  At least 57 people have been killed and more than 100 injured in a suicide attack on the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan on Thursday evening. 

Deputy Commissioner Jamshoro Munawar Maheesar confirmed 57 people had been killed and more than 100 injured in the attack. The dead include four children and 12 women.
The Assistant Superintendent of Police in Sehwan said a suicide bomber entered the shrine through its Golden gate. The attacker blew himself up after throwing a grenade, which failed to explode, he said. The explosion took place in the area where dhamaal (a Sufi ritual) was being performed after evening prayers.

A large number of devotees, from different faiths and from across the country, frequent the shrine on Thursdays — a day of spiritual significance in Pakistan's shrine culture. Security for shrines has been tightened across the province following the attack.

What we know so far

  • At least 57 deaths and more than 100 injured
  • The explosion occurred in the area where the dhamaal was being performed
  • The attack is reminiscent of the suicide bombing at the Shah Norani shrine in Balochistan in November last year.
  • Armed forces, a military C-130 and a navy helicopter will aid in shifting the injured
  • The Chief of Armed Staff has 'vowed revenge' for the attack.

Armed forces aid in rescue efforts

Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa has directed that immediate assistance be provided to civil authorities. Army contingents have been dispatched along with medical personnel. Combined Military Hospital Hyderabad has also been alerted to receive casualties.A Pakistan Air Force (PAF) C-130 aircraft has been tasked to to airlift the injured from Nawabshah airport, while a navy helicopter will airlift the injured from Sehwan and its surrounding areas, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) has said. The ISPR has also said that the armed forces have placed all required resources to facilitate the rescue effort. Pakistan Army and Rangers are also assisting with rescue efforts at the site. Chief Minister Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah has directed all rescue teams to reach the spot of the attack. “Doctors from Jamshoro, Nawabshah and Hyderabad have been sent to Sehwan,” Shah told DawnNews. He also said security has been tightened at all shrines across the province. Sehwan is Shah's constituency.

Resurgence in terror attacks

Pakistan seems to be experiencing a fresh resurgence in terror attacks.
Earlier today, an explosive device had targeted an Army convoy in the Awaran area of Balochistan, killing three soldiers.
On Feb 15, a suicide bomber struck in Mohmand, killing three personnel of the Khasadar force and five civilians. The attack was claimed by Tehreek-i-Taliban (TTP)
The same day, a suicide bomber rammed his motorcycle into a vehicle carrying judges in Peshawar's Hayatabad Phase 5 area, killing the driver and injuring its four other occupants. The attack was claimed by the TTP too.
On Feb 13, a suicide bomber had struck a protest on Lahore's Charing Cross interchange, killing 13 and injuring 85. The attack had happened right outside the gates of Punjab's Provincial Assembly.
The attack was claimed by the Jamat-ul-Ahrar.
On the same day, two personnel of Balochistan's bomb disposal squad were killed as they attempted to defuse an explosive device planted under the Sariab Road bridge in Quetta, the provincial capital.
The last attack on a shrine of a Sufi mystic took place on November 12, 2016, when a suicide bomber struck the shrine of Shah Norani in the Khuzdar district of Balochistan, where at least 52 people were killed and 102 were injured.
The explosion had also taken place at a spot inside the Shah Noorani shrine where the dhamaal was being performed. At the time of the blast, there were at least 500 people gathered at the spot to observe the ritual.

Army chief Bajwa vows revenge for Sehwan attacks: 'No more restraint'

Moments after a devastating bombing at Lal Shahbaz Qalander shrine in Sehwan, Sindh, the Pakistan military issued a strongly worded statement to "hostile powers", saying it will respond to such attacks. In a short message posted to Twitter, Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (DG ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said, "Recent terrorist acts are being executed on directions from hostile powers and from sanctuaries in Afghanistan. We shall defend and respond."

"Each drop of the nation's blood shall be revenged, and revenged immediately. No more restraint for anyone," the army chief was quoted as saying. He added that Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has appealed for "calm". "Your security forces shall not allow hostile powers to succeed. We stand for our nation," Ghafoor quoted COAS Bajwa as saying. At least 50 people have been killed and scores injured in a suicide attack on the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan on Thursday evening. The attack is the fourth in a string of a shocking wave of militancy across the country, with Lahore, Quetta and Mohmand Agency struck in the last four days.

PM condemns attack

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that an attack on the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is an attack on the progressive and inclusive future of Pakistan. "The Sufi people predate Pakistan's history, and played an important part in the struggle for its formation," he said. "An attack on them is a direct threat to Jinnah's Pakistan and will be dealt as such," the PM was quoted as saying in a statement released by his media office in Islamabad. Sindh Governor Mohammad Zubair, in his message of solidairty, said, "Sindh is a land of the Sufis. The terrorists have targeted the devotees to achieve their nefarious designs." "This attack tantamounts to attack on the entire nation."

Islamic State claims suicide attack on shrine in Pakistan; 30 killed

Updated Jan 31, 2017

It is the latest in a string of blasts in the country this week.

Islamic State claimed responsibility on Thursday for a suicide bombing in southern Pakistan, the group's affiliated news agency AMAQ reported. At least 30 people were killed and over 100 others injured when a suspected suicide bomber blew himself up inside the crowded shrine of revered Sufi Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan town in Pakistan’s Sindh province, the fifth deadly terror attack in the country within a week.

The blast took place during Dhamaal — a Sufi ritual — when hundreds of devotees were present inside the premises of the vast mausoleum of the saint, police said. Citing Taluka Hospital Medical Superintendent Moinuddin Siddiqui, Dawn reported that at least 30 bodies and more than 100 injured were brought to the hospital. An emergency has been declared in the hospitals of the area. The area is located far from any hospital, with the nearest medical complex located 40 to 50 kilometres from the site of the blast. Devotees gather at the shrine of the revered Sufi saint every Thursday to participate in a Dhamaal and prayers.

Earlier, Sindh Health Minister Sikandar Mandhro said that “40-50 people” have been injured in the blast. Initial report suggests that it was a suicide bombing on portion reserved for women in the shrine, the Dawn reported, quoting SSP Jamshoro Tariq Wilayat. “It seems to be a suicide bombing according to initial information provided by Sehwan police to me and I am on way to Shewan,” Mr. Wilayat said. Rescue officials said due to the non availability of adequate ambulances at the shrine the toll could rise.

“Ambulances have been rushed from Hyderabad and other close by places like Nawabshah, Moro, Dadu,” Mr. Wilayat said. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah ordered immediate rescue operation and government announced emergency in the hospitals of the nearby Jamshooro and Hyderabad districts.

Television channels reported that dead bodies and injured were lying inside the shrine.
Lal Shahbaz Qalandar was a Sufi philosopher-poet of present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The attack on shrine came a day after Pakistan vowed to “liquidate” all those elements posing a threat to peace and security in the country amid a spurt in terror attacks.
The decision was taken at high-level meeting chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday to review the security situation in the country.
“The meeting made a resolve that terrorism emanating within the country or executed and harboured from outside the country would be eliminated and those posing threat to peace and security of the country would be liquidated by the might of the state,” according to an official statement.
 Terrorists have carried out attacks in Lahore, Mohmand agency, Peshawar and Quetta within a week.

Pakistan under threat from Islamic State: Envoy to US

Published Feb 17, 2017

Islamabad: Pakistan is under threat from theIslamic State militant group which may head to the country as the Syrian conflict nears an end, Islamabad's newly-appointed envoy to the US has said.
Aizaz Chaudhry who was named Pakistan's Ambassador to the US this week said that terrorism from Afghanistan is now spreading into Pakistan where elements are trying to destabilise the country and sabotage major events like the Pakistan Super League, a cricket match hosted by the country this month. Pakistan is under threat from the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group which may head to the country as the Syrian conflict nears an end, Dawn newspaper quoted the former foreign secretary as saying yesterday while addressing a seminar at the Air University Islamabad on matters of national security.

ISIS cannot establish a base in Pakistan as the nation is united when it comes to opposing terrorism, Chaudhry said. "It has been established that ISIS is operating in Afghanistan, and as a neighbouring country, Pakistan has severe reservations regarding the situation," he said. When asked about government's efforts to curb sectarian bloodshed, Chaudhry said: "Action has already been initiated against terror outfits involved in sectarian violence in the country". Chaudhry said Pakistan wants Afghanistan and Taliban to enter dialogue to ensure peace in the war-torn country. He said the Taliban had entered Pakistan as migrants and had been told to steer clear of militant activities if they wanted to stay in the country. "We will not tolerate that the Taliban operate from here to carry out terror attacks across the border. The unrest in Afghanistan will not be allowed to infiltrate into Pakistan," Chaudhry said, when asked on the supposed distinction between "the good and the bad" Taliban. "Billions of dollars have been spent on establishing peace in Afghanistan, but to no avail," Chaudhry said.

The US has been pushing Pakistan to stop terror activities from Afghanistan for regional stability. "We will not be pressurised by this so-called 'do more' ideology being pushed on us. We're working on full capacity to counter terrorism and we will continue with our efforts in full force," he said.

Islamic State 'emboldened' in Pakistan, say analysts

Published Feb 18, 2017

Islamabad: A brutal attack on a beloved Sufi shrine that killed 88 people raised fears that the Islamic State group has become emboldened in Pakistan, aided by an army of homegrown militants benefiting from hideouts in neighbouring Afghanistan, analysts and officials said on Saturday.
Pakistani security forces have carried out sweeping country-wide raids following Thursday's bombing of the shrine in Pakistan's southern Sindh province that also wounded 343 people.
The military's public relations wing reported on its official twitter account that more than 100 suspected 'terrorists" were killed in the raids, while government officials lashed out at Kabul accusing the Afghan government of ignoring earlier pleas to crackdown on militant hideouts.
Zahid Hussain, an expert on militants in the region, said a toxic mix of violent Sunni militant groups, many belonging to banned groups that are flourishing under new names, have wrapped themselves in the banner of the Islamic State group.

"The Islamic State (group) might not have a strong organizational structure in Pakistan but we have thousands of members of banned groups sympathetic to the (their) ideology," Hussain said in an interview. "They subscribe to the Islamic State (group) world view."
Thursday's terror attack, Pakistan's deadliest in years stunned the nation and raised questions about the authorities' ability to rein in militant groups despite several military offensives targeting militant hideouts. It also threatened to drive a deeper wedge between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Islamabad quickly lashed out at Kabul, saying the bombing was masterminded in militant sanctuaries across the border in Afghanistan, whose own security forces have been assaulted by Islamic State fighters.
Overnight, Afghan authorities said 17 Afghan soldiers were killed by IS insurgents.
Pakistan's Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa spoke by phone with U.S. Gen John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, to protest militant sanctuaries on Afghan soil, according to a statement carried on the military's official twitter account. Bajwa said the Afghan government was not taking action against the hideouts and warned that its "inaction" was testing "our current policy of cross border restraint," without further elaborating.

Underscoring tensions between the two neighbours, Pakistan fired a blistering round of artillery shells into Afghan territory on Friday and shut down the Torkham border crossing a key commercial artery between the two neighbours. Pakistan said the barrage was in response to a militant attack on one of its border posts.

Pakistan Army Claims 100 Terrorists Killed After Shrine Bombing

Updated: February 18, 2017  

Pakistan Army on Friday claimed to have killed more than 100 suspected terrorists in retaliation to an ISIS suicide bombing at a crowded Sufi shrine in Sindh province that claimed 88 lives.
The media wing of the army, ISPR, said a "sizeable" number of suspects have also been arrested since last night, when a Islamic State bomber blew himself up at the popular shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan in the southern province.

The statement did not specify where the terrorists were killed or about the arrests and said "details will be shared".
Pakistan Army has launched combing operations across the country, including Punjab province. "Intelligence agencies are making progress to unearth networks behind recent (terrorist) incidents," military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said, without providing details. Immediately after the blast, Pakistan claimed the bombing was planned in militant sanctuaries across the border in Afghanistan, threatening renewed hostilities between Kabul and Islamabad.
The army claimed it has found linkages to terrorist support networks operating from Afghanistan and it has closed the border due to security reasons after the bombing last night. Pakistan Army began an operation in Shalman area near the Pakistan-Afghan border, using heavy artillery fire, reports said. The border with Afghanistan at Torkham has been shut. "No cross-border or unauthorised entry will be allowed into Pakistan from Afghanistan," it said.

Afghan diplomats were summoned yesterday to General Headquarters in Rawalpindi by the Army, which lodged a protest over the use of Afghan soil by terrorists to carry out attacks in Pakistan. The Afghan officials were also handed over a list of 76 terrorists hiding across the border and directing or supporting terrorist activities in Pakistan, the statement said. "Afghan government has been asked to target them and hand them over to Pakistan." Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa assured the people, saying the "hostile" agenda will not be allowed to succeed "whatever it may cost". "Army is for security of people of Pakistan against all types of threat. Nation to stay steadfast with full confidence in their security forces," he was quoted as saying in the statement.

Waiting Game: Fighting Islamic State - A trap for India

Published Feb 19, 2017

Located in the Sindh town of Sehwan, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is among Pakistan’s best-regarded Sufi shrines. It is associated in popular culture with the haunting voice of Reshma, the late artiste whose family migrated at Partition from the deserts of Rajasthan to Sindh and who shot to fame as both a devotee of Shahbaz Qalandar and the singer who gave us Dama dam Mast Qalandar… Ironically many Indians first heard that devotional song not in the voice of Reshma but of Runa Laila, a Bangladeshi icon, establishing how culture, music and faith link the subcontinent in more ways than we can imagine. All this makes the terrorist bombing of the Shahbaz Qalandar shrine on February 16, 2017 that much more poignant. It is an act of infamy for which the Islamic State (IS), or Daesh as it is known, has claimed responsibility. It has been suggested, correctly, that Daesh’s puritan version of an Islam practised in the medieval desolation of Arabia cannot fathom or sanction divergent and regional practices of Islam, specially in South Asia. As such, targeting a Sufi shrine that is, frankly, beyond just Islamic in its appeal is entirely in keeping with the IS worldview.
Yet, while not discounting IS, it needs to be kept in mind that attacks on Sufi shrines, on Shias, on Ahmediyyas and on forms and modes of subcontinental Islam that are considered “deviant” and “blasphemous” by Wahhabi and similar interpretations of the faith are not new in Pakistan. They have been sanctioned and supported by the ideologues of Pakistan, by a state-back religious police, and even by sections of the military. If these traditions persist, and if a Lal Shahbaz Qalandar continues to draw thousands of pilgrims, it is because common people in Pakistan have soldiered on and still not rejected these aspects of their heritage. It is worth recalling that the outrage felt earlier this week was similar to the response to the suicide bombing of the Data Darbar shrine in Lahore in 2010. That shrine too is a landmark in the city and was seen to be above controversy and safe from terror threats. Sufi shrines, Shia mosques, dargahs, and so on have been systematically attacked in the past decade, in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan.
In fact, one fears for the Hinglaj Mata temple in Las Bela, Balochistan. This is the westernmost of the Shaktipeeths so sacred to Hindus. It is a location that attracts local Muslims too. They associate it with not Shiv and Sati but with a divine calling going back to before the advent of Islam but accepted and incorporated even after the embracing of and conversion to Islam. This is a complex reality that unsophisticated, black-and-white zealots can never comprehend. Who threatens any Pakistani Muslim who does not conform to a narrow Wahhabi or Deobandi idea of Sunni Islam? One need not even discuss here the predicament of Pakistan’s Hindus, Christians or its once-sizeable Jewish community; their story is in another category altogether. Spin doctors in Islamabad argue the challenge comes from the IS. In 2010, when Data Darbar was bombed, there was no IS. The villain then was the Tehreek-e-Taliban or Pakistan Taliban. In recent years, as the IS has strived to gain a foothold in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, it has taken in former Tehreek-e-Taliban cadre. Many militants have changed labels in expectation of better pay and logistics.
Recruitment to the Pakistan Taliban and the fledgling IS, is carried out in the same Pakistani Punjab rural heartland where the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, the anti-Shia Sipah-e-Sahaba, its affiliate the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and the Jaish-e-Mohammed seek to swell their numbers. Of course, each of these groups has different tactical motivations. One may focus on attacking Indian soldiers and civilians in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere, another may prioritise a genocide of Pakistani Shias. Nevertheless a Sunni supremacism and a distaste for so-called unauthorised rituals in Islam is common to them. Ultimately, the syncretic appeal of a Data Sahib or a Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is antithetical to this jihadist spectrum. As such, rather than inspired by IS actions in Iraq and Syria, the bombing of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar follows a history of state-backed Sunni extremists and state-condoned Sunni militia systemically annihilating supposed “heretics” within Pakistan’s own Muslim community. The IS has exploited this environment; it has not created it. That toxic atmosphere pre-existed IS and can be traced back to at least the Zia-ul-Haq decade, from which Pakistan has not recovered and perhaps may never recover.
The distinction between these groups is not so much in terms of theological construct, it is political. Lashkar and similar militia are loyal to the Pakistani state and usually listen to the generals. Tehreek-e-Taliban and IS fantasise about taking over Islamabad, overthrowing the Pakistani state and building a pan-national Caliphate. The Afghan Taliban sees the Pakistani state as an ally in its effort to recapture Kabul. Not surprisingly, Islamabad-Rawalpindi have presented IS as beyond the pale and the principal problem, but the Afghan Taliban as part of the solution. As a former Pakistani foreign secretary said at a closed-door conference a few months ago, “Tehreek-e-Taliban and IS are brigands and terrorists. (Afghan) Taliban are Afghan nationalists.” He didn’t bother mentioning Lashkar or its parent, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. Strategically, all these militia are a threat to India. Tactically, IS and/or Tehreek-e-Taliban is a threat to Pakistan. It may one day become a direct threat to India but at the moment, it is Pakistan that is facing the heat. That is why it is using this chance to try and mainstream the Afghan Taliban as “not-so-bad guys” who can help take on the IS. This is poppycock. Those maverick voices in India urging that the Narendra Modi government to send troops to fight IS should know better. What they are in effect suggesting is that India walk into somebody else’s war, and somebody else’s trap.

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