Pakistan shrine blasts kill 42
A pair of Taliban suicide bombers have struck one of Pakistan's most important Sufi Muslim shrines, killing 42 people and wounding 100 who were celebrating the anniversary of its founder's death.
Another bomber was wounded when his explosive vest partially detonated. He was arrested along with a fourth militant who was seized before attacking, police official Ahmad Mubarak said.
Sunday's attack on the Sakhi Sarwar shrine ended a months-long respite in a relentless militant campaign against the shrines founded by ancient adherents of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam that sees dancing, chanting and visiting holy sites as expressions of devotion to God. Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility for the assault.
Nineteen men, 14 women and nine children were killed, emergency co-ordinator Natiq Hayat said. Twenty of the wounded were in critical condition.
From one-room tombs in small villages to large complexes in major cities, Sufi shrines are visited by millions of Pakistanis. The sites are anathema to the Pakistani Taliban, al Qaida and other militant followers of the austere brand of Wahabi Islam that originated in Saudi Arabia.
Followers of the Barelvi school of Islam, one of the two main branches of the religion in Pakistan, consider themselves the custodian of the shrines. They have been one of the main targets of Islamist militants since some of their leaders issued edicts calling suicide bombings religiously illegitimate.
Several thousand people were marking the 942nd anniversary of the death of the saint Ahmad Sultan, better known as Sakhi Sarwar, at his shrine in the Dera Ghazi Khan district of Punjab province, when the bombers struck crowds waiting outside, government administrator Iftikhar Saho said.
A stampede followed the bombings, but it was not immediately clear if that caused any casualties.
Local and foreign Islamist militants have carried out hundreds of attacks in Pakistan over the last three years, targeting government buildings and security forces, Western targets such as embassies and hotels as well as religious minorities and Muslim sects they consider heretical.
An assault on the shrine of Hazrat Ali Hajveri, known as Data Sahib, killed 47 people in the city of Lahore in July. The attacks have angered many Pakistani Muslims, who see visiting saints' shrines as the best way to communicate to God.