QUETTA: At least 45 people, including women and children, were killed and over 100 sustained injuries in an explosion that struck Dargah Shah Noorani in Khuzdar district of Balochistan on Saturday.
The explosion took place at the spot where dhamaal (ritual dance) is performed, within the premises of the shrine. "Every day, around sunset, there is a dhamaal here," said Nawaz Ali, the shrine's custodian.
At the time of the blast, at least 500 people had gathered there to witness the performance, said Abdul Hakeem Lasi, a senior Edhi official in Khuzdar district.
According to reports, rescuers were facing difficulty in reaching the site of the incident due to its remote location and poor communication infrastructure. The shrine is also located in hilly terrain, further adding to the difficulties being faced by emergency services. The government dispatched 25 ambulances from the nearby town of Hub to the shrine, said Akbar Harifal, provincial home secretary. "The army was called in to assist with rescue operations, given the remoteness of the site," said Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti. According to him, it was not clear if the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber or a planted device.
Meanwhile, electricity services were also disrupted following the explosion, hampering rescue efforts further. Two platoons of the Frontier Corps had also reached the shrine with medical and rescue equipment. "People who are critically injured in the blast will be transported to Karachi," said Sarfraz Bugti.
No major hospital is located near the shrine, so the injured were being shifted to hospitals in nearby localities in private vehicles. An emergency had also been declared in hospitals of Khuzdar and Karachi. The only hospital in the district is Civil Hospital Khuzdar, which is not equipped to handle such emergencies.
Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif ordered maximum assistance for the evacuation and medical treatment to the victims of the Shah Noorani shrine blast.
Fifty soldiers, 20 ambulances and two medical teams were sent to the shrine for medical assistance. Due to difficult terrain and long distance, it took more time to reach the crime scene, the Inter-Services Public Relations director general said in a tweet.
Troops and medical teams were sent from Karachi and Khuzdar to help the victims. Later, another 100 soldiers, four medical teams and 45 ambulances were sent. Sindh Rangers' ambulances and doctors were also on their way to the shrine by the time this report was filed. Evacuation through aircraft was not possible since no landing strip was in the area.
On instructions of Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, around 50 ambulances were also dispatched from Karachi to the shrine.
National Party President Mir Hasil Bizenjo said the death toll would increase if the federal or Sindh government did not provide helicopters for evacuating the injured.
"There are no helicopters available with the provincial government to evacuate the injured," confirmed Anwar Kakar, a spokesperson for the Balochistan government.
To a question regarding security measures in Balochistan, Bugti said, "If there is security lapse on part of the state, those responsible will be held accountable."
The shrine is frequented by a large number of devotees on Friday, and is visited by people from across the country. Iranian nationals also visit the shrine very often.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack on the shrine, while Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah also expressed his grief over the killing of innocent people.
Expressing deep grief and sorrow over the loss of innocent lives in the blast, the premier sympathised with the bereaved families.