Pakistan bomb toll 72

Pakistanis hold lighted candles during a vigil to pay a tribute to the victims of a suicide bombing in Lahore on Feb 15. Four suicide bombers struck Pakistan in one day on Feb 15, killing six people and unnerving citizens whose growing sense of security has been shaken by multiple Taleban blasts this week. (AFP)

KARACHI, Feb 16, (Agencies): A bomb which ripped through a crowded Sufishrine in Pakistan Thursday killed up to 72 people, officials said, the deadliest in a series of attacks to strike the insurgency-wracked country this week. “Up to 72 people have been killed and more than 150 others wounded,” provincial health minister Sikandar Ali Mandro told AFP. A senior police official confirmed the death toll. Islamic State claimed responsibility on Thursday for a suicide bombing in southern Pakistan, the group’s affiliated news agency AMAQ reported. A police source said that a suicide bomber had entered the shrine and blown himself up among the devotees, adding the shrine was crowded on a Thursday, considered a sacred day to pray at the shrine.

The security situation has deteriorated recently in Pakistan this week, with a powerful suicide bomb attack rocking the Punjab provincial capital Lahore, killing at least 13 people and wounding dozens more on Monday. Four suicide bombers struck northwest Pakistan on Wednesday, killing six people and unnerving civilians whose growing sense of security has been shaken.

Also on Monday two members of a bomb disposal unit were killed in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, when a device they were defusing went off. Pakistan has seen a dramatic improvement in security since its deadliest- ever extremist attack — a Pakistani Taleban assault on a school in Peshawar in 2014 which left more than 150 people dead, mostly children, and prompted a government and military crackdown.

The army intensified a long-awaited operation in the semi-autonomous tribal areas, where militants had previously operated with impunity, and the government launched a vaunted National Action Plan against extremism. Emboldened Pakistanis are once again attending public gatherings and a sense of optimism is palpable after more than a decade of militant attacks. But critics have repeatedly warned that the crackdown does not address the root causes of extremism, and homegrown groups like the Pakistani Taliban can still carry out spectacular assaults.

Pakistani counter-terrorism police raided a militant hideout and killed six suspected members of a Taleban faction that has launched a new campaign of violence against the government, police said on Thursday. Since Monday, several bomb attacks across the country have shattered a period of improving security, underscoring how militant groups still pose a threat in the nuclear-armed country of 180 million people.

The Counter Terrorism Department in Punjab province said its officers surrounded a hideout of the Pakistani Taleban’s Jamaat-ur-Ahrar faction in the city of Multan late on Wednesday and ordered the suspects inside to surrender. “But the terrorists started firing at the raiding party and threw explosives,” a spokesman for the department, who the unit does not identify for security reasons, said in a statement. Six militants were killed while three or four escaped under cover of darkness, the department added. Two hand grenades, two automatic rifl es and two pistols were recovered.

The militant faction claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack near the Punjab provincial assembly in the city of Lahore on Monday that killed 13 people and wounded more than 80. Jamaat-ur-Ahrar said the attack was the beginning of a new campaign of violence against the government, security forces, the judiciary and secular political parties.

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