Khuzdar District: Survivors of a massive bomb attack on a shrine in southwest Pakistan that killed dozens spoke of their horror on Sunday after families were ripped apart in a strike showing the expanding reach of the Islamic State group.
The blast, later confirmed to be the work of a teenage suicide bomber, hit male and female worshippers as they were dancing and chanting at the shrine of the Sufi saint Shah Noorani yesterday, some 750 kilometres south of Quetta, the provincial capital of restive Balochistan province.
Mohammad Shehzad, a 25-year-old who had travelled in a group of 120 pilgrims, told AFP: "The pressure of the blast was so strong, people were blown away. Everyone was running, shouting and searching for families.
"Children were looking for the mothers and fathers. People looking for brothers and sisters but no one was able to listen to their cries."
The attack killed 52 and wounded more than 105 and was the fourth deadliest in Pakistan this year. Stricken survivors swathed themselves in blankets and braved the cold under open skies overnight as they made their way home.
Many had travelled hundreds of kilometres to pay their respects to the saint and seek blessings, in line with their belief in Sufism, a mystic Islamic order that worships through music and is viewed as heretical by hardline militant groups.
Unlike at mosques in Pakistan, which often limit access to women, both genders are permitted to take part in many rituals at Sufi shrines, though they are sometimes separated by partition walls.
Witnesses said problems were compounded by the fact that it took several hours for rescue services to reach the remote shrine, located on a hilltop in the Khuzdar district of Balochistan several kilometres away from surrounding villages, with poor mobile network coverage.
Hafeez Ali, a 28-year-old auto mechanic, said: "We had left the area only five minutes before the attack to go and cook our dinner. From our viewpoint on a hill, we could see three whirling dervishes dancing to a drummer, as hundreds formed a circle around them. Then came the explosion.
"We realised that it was a bomb blast. Two of us rushed down and saw the bodies scattered all around -- mostly children. We also saw the drum beater dead and his exploded drum was lying nearby."