Security forces launched a nationwide crackdown on Friday after a bomb ripped through Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine, killing at least 70 people, including 20 children, and wounding hundreds.
“Both the federal and provincial law enforcement authorities and police started a crackdown across the country before dawn, and scores of suspects have been arrested from different cities,” a government official speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP. He said the sweeping operation will continue for the coming days.
Sindh Rangers claimed to have killed 18 terrorists overnight in different areas of Karachi. While, police in Peshawar said seven terrorists had been killed in intelligence-based operations.
Seven terrorists were killed in a shootout with Rangers after they attacked a convoy of the paramilitary troops on the Super Highway near Kathor, Sindh. A convoy of Rangers was returning from Sehwan after taking part in rescue operations. A Rangers spokesperson said a soldier was injured in the exchange of fire.
Rangers further said 11 more terrorists were killed in a raid carried out in Manghopir area of Karachi. “Arms and ammunition was also seized during the operation,” the Rangers spokesperson added. The Rangers said all suspects were affiliated with a banned organisation.
In Peshawar, three terrorists were killed in an intelligence-based operation “Police and security forces received information about the presence of terrorists in the area so they launched an operation early morning,” a police official said
“The terrorists tried to flee in a car but they were intercepted and three of them were killed in the exchange of fire,” the official said. Search for their accomplices is underway, he added.
The Islamic State group (IS) claimed the attack, which came after a series of bloody extremist assaults this week, in the town of Sehwan in Sindh.
Police had cordoned off the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a revered 13th century Muslim saint, early Friday, as forensic investigators arrived.
The popular 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 Sindh provincial government announced three days of mourning as Pakistanis vented their grief and fury on social media, bemoaning the lack of medical facilities to help the wounded, with the nearest main hospital some 130 kilometres from the shrine.
The medical facilities in Sehwan are basic, and many of the injured were flown to Karachi and other major towns of Sindh in military planes and helicopters.
Pakistan has seen a dramatic improvement in security in the past two years, but there have been multiple attacks this week. The assaults underscore Pakistan’s struggle to stamp out extremism, which was stepped up after the country’s deadliest ever attack, a TTP assault on Army Public School in Peshawar in 2014 which left more than 150 people dead — mostly children.
(With additional input from AFP)