Pakistan: Five Killed In Blast Near Sufi Shrine In Lahore

Pakistan: Five Killed In Blast Near Sufi Shrine In Lahore

New Delhi: 

A blast took place at Pakistan's oldest and most popular Sufi shrines. The incident claimed the life of at least five people and wounded 24 in the eastern city of Lahore Wednesday, police said, as the country marks the fasting month of Ramadan.

According to the police, the probe is going on to determine the nature of the blast, which occurred near the entrance gate for female visitors to the 11th-century Data Darbar shrine, one of the largest Sufi shrines in South Asia.

Husks of vehicles littered the pavement near the shrine as first responders rushed to the scene while armed security forces fanned out in the area.

One of the oldest shrine in Pakistan, it has long been home to colourful Sufi festivals and a prime destination for the country's myriad Muslim sects, making it a soft target for terrorist attacks.

The shrine had earlier as well been attacked in a 2010 suicide attack which killed more than 40 people.

Since then the area has been increasingly hemmed in by heavy security, with visitors forced to pass through several layers of screening before they can enter the complex.

Sufi worshippers, who follow a mystical strain of Islam, have frequently been the target of bloody attacks in Pakistan by Islamist terrorists -- including the Islamic State group -- who consider Sufi beliefs and rituals at the graves of Muslim saints as heresy.

Senior police official Muhammad Ashfaq told a press conference that the security personnel at the shrine were targeted, but stressed that the cause of the blast remains under investigation.

Three police officials, a security guard and a civilian were killed, he added. Provincial health minister Yasmin Rashid confirmed the toll.

Police official Muhammad Kashif said that the blast may have been "a suicide attack" on a security vehicle.

Pakistan's push against extremism was stepped up after the country's deadliest ever attack, an assault on a school in Peshawar in 2014 that left more than 150 people dead -- mostly children.

Since then, security has dramatically improved but terrorists retain the ability to carry out dramatic attacks.

Major urban centres such as Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city and the provincial capital of its wealthiest province, Punjab, are not immune.

An attack in the city in March last year left nine people dead, while a major blast targeting Christians celebrating Easter in a park in 2016 killed more than 70 people.

Critics have long argued the military and government crackdown has not addressed the root causes of extremism in Pakistan, where hardline Muslim groups often target religious minorities.

The Data Darbar complex contains the shrine of Saint Syed Ali bin Osman Al-Hajvery, popularly known as Data Ganj Bakhsh. Originally from Afghanistan, he was one of the most popular Sufi preachers on the subcontinent.

Each spring, many pilgrims visit the shrine  to mark his death anniversary, while it is also crowded weekly with worshippers listening to qawwali, a traditional form of Islamic devotional music.

(Inputs from news agencies)