captaion: Pakistani policemen pray inside the Data Darbar, the shrine of Muslim Sufi saint Hazrat Syed Ali bin Usman Hajweri in Lahore, following deadly suicide bomb attacks.
The cultural capital, Lahore was on high alert after two suicide bombers blew themselves up in an Islamic shrine packed with worshippers, killing 42 people and wounding scores more. (AFP)
LAHORE: Terror struck Pakistan’s cultural hub of Lahore as a pair of suicide bombers attacked a famous Sufi shrine packed with thousands of worshippers, killing at least 43 people, including women and children, and injuring 180 others in the latest in a slew of attacks across the country.
The blasts occurred late last night in quick succession at the Data Darbar shrine of Sufi saint Syed Abul Hassan bin Usman bin Ali al-Hajweri revered by millions of people.
Though initial reports had said the shrine was targeted by three suicide attackers, SSP Chaudhry Shafiq Ahmed today stated that two bombers were involved in the assault.
One blew himself up in the shrine’s courtyard while another detonated his explosive vest in the basement in an area where people perform ablutions.
Mr Salman Kazmi, a senior official at Mayo Hospital, said 43 bodies had been received at the city’s only morgue.
Several of the injured succumbed to their wounds in the hospital today.
Another 180 people were injured in one of the most devastating attacks witnessed in Lahore, which has been increasingly targeted by pro-Taliban militants in recent months.
Doctors described the condition of more than 20 of the injured as serious.
There was no claim of responsibility for the attack but the Taliban and other militant groups consider Sufism — a mystical movement comprising both Shias and Sunnis that spreads the message of Islam through music, poetry and dancing — and the visiting of its shrines as heretical.
The Taliban have also targeted Sufi shrines in northwest Pakistan in the past.
Dramatic CCTV footage aired on TV channels showed the suicide bombers rushing into the shrine complex after evading police guards and volunteers deployed at a gate.
One bomber, clad in a white salwar-kurta with a green cloth wrapped around his head, was seen running through a crowd of people in the basement moments before an orange flash and clouds of smoke and dust filled the frame at about 10.50 pm last night.
The second bomber exploded him minutes later in the courtyard, where thousands of worshippers were present.
People ran in all directions and some were injured in the stampede. Once the panic subsided, people wept and beat their heads and chests.
The blast in the basement caused the most damage as the shock waves were intensified by the confined space.
The explosion completely smashed the ceiling and ripped through a large number of people who were performing ablutions in the basement.
Police found the heads and body parts of the two bombers and sent them for forensic tests. Officials said the suicide vests were packed with over 10 kg of explosives and ball bearings.
Though Lahore is no stranger to horrific attacks, 95 people were killed in assaults on two mosques of the minority Ahmedi sect in May, residents were shocked by the fact that terrorists had targeted a shrine that is visited by thousands everyday and revered by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
The Ahmedi mosques attacks were the worst in Pakistan this year since a suicide bomber killed 101 people on January 1 during a volleyball game in Bannu near the restive tribal belt.
In their stories on last night’s blasts, the Dawn newspaper said in its headline that “Terrorists tear into the heart of Lahore,” while the headline in The News read: “Terrorists hit Data Darbar.”
An atmosphere of gloom hung over Lahore and authorities sounded a red alert ahead of the weekly Muslim prayers.
The senior police officer, Mr Muhammad Faisal Rana said security was especially tightened around mosques. A large number of police and security personnel were deployed to patrol sensitive areas in the city.
Lawyers boycotted courts and most markets were closed as a mark of protest. The streets were almost empty and associations representing traders called for two days of mourning.
Data Darbar was reopened to the public this morning after being closed briefly so that investigators could scour the shrine for evidence and clues.
Hundreds of people gathered at the shrine of Syed Abul Hassan bin Usman bin Ali al-Hajweri, considered the patron saint of Lahore, for the weekly prayers.
Witnesses said the floor was still spattered with blood at some places.
Security was also stepped up in all four provinces and officials said additional police forces had been deployed at all Sufi shrines across Pakistan.
The President, Mr Asif Ali Zardari and the Prime Minister, Mr Yousuf Raza Gilani strongly condemned the blasts at the Data Darbar shrine.
In a message, Mr Zardari said such acts of terrorism cannot dent the government’s resolve to fight the menace of terrorism and militancy to the end.
Mr Gilani said the attack on the sacred shrine, which has sentimental value for Muslims all over the country, clearly reflects that terrorists have no consideration for any religion, faith or belief.