Pakistan launched a nationwide security crackdown Friday, officials said, after a bomb ripped through a crowded Sufi shrine killing at least 70 people including 20 children and wounding hundreds.
Police had cordoned off the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a 13th century Muslim saint, early Friday as forensic investigators reached the town of Sehwan in Sindh province, some 200 kilometers (124 miles) northeast of financial hub Karachi.
The centuries-old shrine’s white floor was still smeared with blood, with scattered debris including shoes, shawls, and baby bottles. At least 20 children are believed to be among the dead, the head of Sehwan’s medical facility Moeen Uddin Siddiqui said.
At 3.30 am the shrine’s caretaker stood among the carnage and defiantly rang its bell, a daily ritual that he vowed to continue, telling AFP he will “not bow down to terrorists”.
The ISIL Takfiri group has claimed the attack, which came after a series of bloody extremist assaults this week, including a powerful Taliban suicide bomb in the eastern city of Lahore which killed 13 people and wounded dozens.
Military spokesman Asif Ghafoor said the attacks had been carried out from sanctuaries in Afghanistan and that Kabul had been asked to take action.
He also said the military had “closed” the porous border between the two countries, where Kabul and Islamabad have long accused each other of harbouring extremists.
“Scores of suspects have been arrested from different cities” in a pre-dawn crackdown, a government official speaking anonymously told AFP.
Security officials said at least 18 terrorists had been killed in Sindh province overnight, and 13 more in the country’s northwest.
The Sindh provincial government announced three days of mourning as Pakistanis vented their grief and fury on social media.
“Sunnis, Shias, Hindus, people from all faiths visit Sehwan often to pay homage to the great saint. This is an attack on our identity & culture,” said Twitter user Zahraa Saifullah.