Officials in Pakistan say they have killed at least 39 suspected militants in a sweeping security crackdown a day after a massive bombing claimed by Islamic State killed 75 people and injured about 150 at a crowded shrine.
Overnight raids targeting militant hideouts also led to the arrest of 47 suspects, security officials said.
Thursday's terror attack, the country's deadliest in years, stunned the nation and raised questions about Pakistani authorities' ability to rein in militant groups despite several military offensives targeting insurgents.
A suicide bomber detonated the bomb among crowds gathered for the busiest day of the week at the shrine to Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, a town in the southern Sindh province.
Amaq, a news agency affiliated to Isis, claimed the jihadi group had carried out the attack. It was also the latest such attack on devotees of Sufism, a mystical and generally moderate form of Islam despised by radical fundamentalists.
"The explosion took place when a large number of people were inside the shrine boundary," a local police officer said. "A huge number of people come to the shrine every Thursday to take part in ritual dances and prayers. It is not possible to ensure the security of every person coming and going."
Sughra Bibi, a 45-year-old woman rushed to hospital with shrapnel wounds in her stomach, said she was near the front of the crowd watching the devotional dancing when the explosion occurred. "The terrorists are targeting us just because they hate our shrines," she said. "They attacked another shrine a couple of months ago. But we will never give up our faith."
Tanveer Ali, a local man whose wife and son were injured, said those responsible had sinned against Islam by targeting civilians. "The terrorists will have to answer for this on the day of judgment," he said.
Another witness, Raja Somro, inside the shrine at the time of the attack, told a local television network that hundreds of people were performing their spiritual dance called dhamal when the attacker struck at the shrine. "I saw bodies everywhere. I saw bodies of women and children," he said. Local television channels aired footage of worshippers crying for the help after the blast.
A senior police officer said at least 75 people had been killed and more than 150 injured, adding that the death toll was likely to rise.
Emergency services in Sehwan are basic. Muheen Ahmed, the medical superintendent at the local hospital, said it lacked the necessary beds to cope with the incident and that some people had been sent to Hyderabad, 90 miles away.
Pakistan has seen a rise in terrorist attacks in recent days, including an attack on peaceful protesters in the heart of Lahore, a bombing in Quetta that killed two police officers and an explosion in the frontier city of Peshawar.
Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, issued a statement saying an attack on Sufis was considered a "direct threat".
A state-run television station quoted Sharif as saying that the country's military and other security forces would use all their resources to track down and arrest the culprits. The military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa appealed for calm, telling Pakistanis: "Your security forces shall not allow hostile powers to succeed."
But, in a strongly worded statement, he vowed: "Each drop of the nation's blood shall be revenged, and revenged immediately. No more restraint for anyone."
The army spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said acts of terrorism were being carried out "from hostile powers and from sanctuaries in Afghanistan". Without providing any further details, he said: "We shall defend and respond."
He said Pakistan's armed forces would use their resources to transport the wounded to nearby hospitals and that the air force would send a plane to airlift the wounded from Sehwan and other areas.(Source: The Guardian)