World Asia: South & Central First Look

ISIS claims attack targeting Pakistani Sufi worshippers, one of country's worst in years

A deadly bombing in Pakistan underscores the terror group's hostility towards Muslims who don't share its worldview.

A woman clad in burqa walks in the hallway of the tomb of Sufi saint Syed Usman Marwandi, also known as Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in Sehwan Sharif, in Pakistan's southern Sindh province, September 5, 2013.
Akhtar Soomro/ Reuters/ File | Caption

A suicide bomber has killed at least 72 people and injured dozens more in the southern Pakistani town of Sehwan Sharif, according to local police.

The attacker, who belonged to the self-declared Islamic State, struck Thursday at a shrine dedicated to Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a saint of the mystical Sufi sect of Islam.

The shrine was packed with hundreds of worshippers, who were performing a weekly ritual dance called Dharmal. This past November, ISIS attacked another Sufi shrine about 60 miles north of Karachi during the same ritual, also killing dozens. Thursday's death toll makes it one of the country's deadliest attacks in recent years.

While ISIS has staged and inspired high-profile attacks in the US and Europe, and targeted Westerners abroad in several more, the bombings in Pakistan are part of a much deadlier wave of violence against fellow Muslims in predominantly Muslim countries.

“From Istanbul to Saudi Arabia, Baghdad to Bangladesh, the Islamic State has been linked to or is suspected in attacks that deliver a clear message of intimidation to fellow Muslims,” wrote The Christian Science Monitor’s Taylor Luck last July.

“They are part of a growing campaign to silence leading Islamic voices who challenge the group’s narrow, apocalyptic interpretation of Islam.”

Throughout the Muslim world, ISIS has targeted co-religionists at odds with its puritanical, Salafi ideology. A truck bomb it detonated in Baghdad last July, for example, its most deadly attack to date, was seen as an attack on Iraq’s Shiites, whom the Sunni ISIS members consider “idol-worshipping apostates.”

Its other targets have included Saudi Arabia, whose monarchs they consider rivals for leadership of Islam, Turkey, Yemen, and Kuwait.

In addition to killing Muslims who don’t share its worldview, ISIS has also worked to exterminate their cultural heritage.

Last month, the group sparked international outrage for destroying Roman architecture in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, having already destroyed a Sufi and a Shiite shrine in the city. In 2015, Michael Danti, a co-director of the Syrian Heritage Initiative, told National Geographic that the vast majority of sites destroyed in Syria and Iraq date from the Islamic era, rather than pre-Islamic cultures they consider idolatrous. 

"The past few days have been hard, and my heart is with the victims," Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, said after the bombings, as Reuters reports.

"But we can't let these events divide us, or scare us. We must stand united in this struggle for the Pakistani identity, and universal humanity."

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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