Shrine attack hits Pakistan's security confidence

A security official displays shrapnel from the aftermath of the suicide bombing on Thursday, described as the worst single attack in Pakistan since the Peshawar school massacre in December 2014.
A security official displays shrapnel from the aftermath of the suicide bombing on Thursday, described as the worst single attack in Pakistan since the Peshawar school massacre in December 2014.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

At least 75 killed in suicide bomb blast claimed by ISIS - the worst single attack since 2014

SEHWAN • Pakistan's military blamed "hostile forces" in Afghanistan for its worst attack in two years, closing the porous border with its neighbour after a spate of bombings this week dented confidence over recent security gains in the South Asian nation.

At least 75 people were killed and 210 injured after a suicide bomber detonated explosives at a shrine near the southern city of Hyderabad on Thursday, Dr Moinuddin Siddiqui, a medical superintendent at the nearby Sehwan civil hospital, said by phone.

Terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility and said at least 100 people were killed, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist media.

The assault follows attacks in the cities of Lahore and Peshawar this week, with the government reacting by launching a nationwide security crackdown yesterday.

"These attacks show there are more than a few terrorists cells operating," said Dr Taimur Rehman, a political science professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences. "Claims that their backbone has been broken needs to be assessed."

The shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a 13th century Muslim saint, was in the town of Sehwan located in Sindh province, some 200km north-east of the capital Karachi.

The bombing on Thursday was the worst single attack since the Pakistani Taleban massacred about 150 students at an army school in the northern city of Peshawar in December 2014, prompting a military campaign against some domestic insurgent groups. Since then, Pakistan has seen renewed foreign investment as fears over safety have eased.

Since 2014, fatalities in Pakistan from violence have dropped 66 per cent to 2,610 last year, according to the Islamabad-based Centre For Research and Security Studies.

Foreign direct investment is also up 10 per cent to US$1.1 billion (S$1.6 billion) in the six months to December, according to the central bank.

S&P Global Ratings raised Pakistan's credit rating in October in part because of improved domestic security.

Recent terrorist acts were executed "from sanctuaries in Afghanistan", Mr Asif Ghafoor, the main spokesman for Pakistan's armed forces, posted on Twitter, while Pakistan's army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, said: "Each drop of nation's blood shall be revenged, and revenged immediately. No more restraint for anyone."

Pakistan's army said it wanted action against insurgents in Afghanistan and gave the country's embassy officials a list of 76 terrorists hiding in the neighbouring nation.

Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, who shares power with President Ashraf Ghani, condemned the bombing in a post on Twitter.

Meanwhile, a powerful car bomb ripped through a used-car market on Thursday in the south of Iraq's capital, killing more than 50 people in the deadliest such attack this year in the country, officials said.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2017, with the headline 'Shrine attack hits Pakistan's security confidence'. Print Edition | Subscribe