DERA GHAZI KHAN: Two suicide blasts outside the shrine of Syed Ahmad Sakhi Sarwar during the 942nd Urs claimed 42 lives and left more than 100 people injured on Sunday, police and hospital sources said.
Police claimed to have prevented a third blast and arrested a bomber who could blow himself up only partially.
The blasts took place when hundreds of devotees from various parts of the country had thronged the shrine to attend the weeks-long Urs-cum-spring festivities in the remote town of Sakhi Sarwar, 35km from Dera Ghazi Khan city. The two blasts killed 42 devotees, including women and children. The defunct Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack.
According eyewitness Shahid, the first blast took place near the main entrance of the shrine where a Sabeel (drinking water stall) had been set up. He said hundreds of devotees had lined up awaiting their turn to enter the shrine when the powerful blast took place and moments later he saw ruptured bodies all around.
The second blast took place 20 minutes later in the centre of a makeshift bazaar behind the shrine, an area under the control of border military police.
A third bomber tried to blow himself up in the bazaar but the explosives wrapped around his body did not explode and he was held by police.
District Civil Officer Munawwar defused the suicide jacket the bomber was wearing.
The double bombing left the local Sakhi Sarwar Civil Hospital unable to treat over 100 people with critical injuries because it is a 20-bed facility.
Rescue and medical personnel were called from Dera Ghazi Khan and they took a lot of time to reach there.
Several injured people were taken to the Dera District Headquarters Hospital on private vehicles.
After the blasts, the roads filled with devotees leaving the place that hampered rescue work.
Rasheed of Sakhi Sarwar town said security measures taken for the occasion were inadequate.
Divisional Rescue Officer Dr Natiq Hiyat Gilzai said they had collected 32 bodies and over 100 injured people from the blast site.
The administration of the shrine had received an anonymous letter last year with a warning to stop dhamal (devotional dance) and other “un-Islamic rituals” or face an attack.
After the threat, the district administration banned dhamal at the shrine, forcing devotees to perform the mystic dance outside, where adequate security arrangements had not been made.
The Urs celebrations are attended by thousands of people, including women and children, mostly from Faisalabad and Gujranwala divisions and south Punjab.
Executive District Officer (Health) Pervaiz Haider said the Dera hospital had received 42 bodies and more than 80 injured people.
Talking to Dawn, District Police Officer Tassaduq Hiyat Awan claimed that satisfactory security arrangements had been made which did not allow the bombers to enter the shrine.
The DPO said the arrested bomber’s name was Fida Husain and he was from Dera Ismail Khan. He was being treated at a place he did not specify.
Our Muzaffargarh Correspondent adds: The district government had received a warning from the interior ministry only five days ago about possible attacks on shrines in D.G. Khan division.
A letter by the ministry had asked the district administration to take security measures at shrines. Security in Muzaffargarh district, which is adjacent to D.G. Khan, was tightened after Sunday’s attack.
According to sources, the district administration had held some meetings after receiving the letter. Shrines in Muzaffargarh attract a large number of devotees.
AFP adds: “Both were suicide attackers, they came on foot and blew themselves up when police on duty stopped them,” police officer Zahid Hussain Shah said. He said the condition of many injured people was critical.
He said the arrested suspect was a 15- to 16-year-old Afghan refugee.