At least 10 persons, including five police personnel, were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a major Sufi shrine in Pakistan’s Lahore on Wednesday as the country marks the fasting month of Ramzan, officials said. It has been claimed by the Hizbul Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban.
The bomb detonated at 08.45 am (09.15 am IST) outside the gate number 2 of the shrine Data Darbar shrine, targeting a van carrying the Elite Force of Punjab Police, Geo TV quoted Deputy Inspector General, Lahore Police as saying. Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the loss of lives in the attack, expressing grief and condoling with the victims’ families for their loss.
Local channel Geo News further said that at least 25 people were being treated for injuries, some of whom were grievously injured. The condition of four policemen is stated to be critical.
Preliminary investigation suggested that the blast could have been carried out by a suicide bomber with the intention to target the police force. The bomb contained seven kilograms of explosive material, Dawn reported.
Punjab Law Minister Basharat Raja said that the death toll may rise as some of the injured’s condition is critical.
“We condemn this cowardly act,” he said and also confirmed it was suicide attack. Mayo Hospital Medical Superintendent Yar Muhammad put the death toll to nine. “We have received nine persons, including policemen dead. The condition of six injured is critical and doctors are trying their best to save their lives,” he said.
Punjab Inspector General of Police (IGP) Arif Nawaz told Dawn that the police was almost certain the target of attack were security personnel because “the attacker could have caused more damage because of the direction he had approached from, but he made a beeline for the police car stationed in the area for protection of the shrine.”
Wednesday is the second day in the holy month of Ramzan and hundreds of devotees were present in and around the structure.
The blast comes at a time when Sufi Islam has been under threat in Sunni-dominated Pakistan for last two decades and there have been several deadly attacks on Sufi shrines across the country. Wednesday’s attack comes days after Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan inaugurated a dedicated university to study Sufism in Jhelum district of Punjab province. The facility, known as Al-Qadir University, is named after Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani, an 11th century Sunni Muslim preacher, orator, mystic, theologian and founder of the Qadiriyya order of Sufism.
The Data Darbar shrine, one of the largest Sufi shrines in South Asia that dates back to the 11th century, has been targeted previously, in a 2010 suicide attack that killed more than 40 people. The shrine, which is the burial site of saint Ali Hajveri, has been under heavy security cover since then.
In October 2017, at least 18 people were killed in a suicide attack on a Sufi Muslim shrine in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan. Later, Islamic State said it was behind the attack. In February of the same year, at least 80 people were killed in another attack on a shrine in Sehwan in southern Sindh province. This assault too was later claimed by the so-called Islamic State.