Pakistani security forces have killed dozens of suspected militants, a day after Islamic State claimed a suicide bombing that killed more than 80 worshippers at a Sufi shrine, the biggest in a spate of attacks this week across the country.
The bombing at the famed Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine on Thursday in southern Sindh province was Pakistan’s deadliest attack for two years, killing at least 83 people and highlighting the threat of militant groups such as the Pakistani Taliban and Islamic State.
The nationwide crackdown was swift.
‘Over 100 terrorists have been killed since last night and sizeable apprehensions also made,’ the military said on Friday evening.
With authorities facing angry criticism for failing to tighten security before the shrine bomber struck, analysts warned that the wave of violence pointed to a major escalation in Islamist militants’ attempts to destabilise the region.
With pressure growing for action, Pakistan demanded that neighbouring Afghanistan hand over 76 ‘terrorists’ it said were sheltering over the border.
The bombings over five days have hit all four of Pakistan’s provinces and two major cities, shaking a nascent sense that the worst of the country’s militant violence may be in the past.
A series of military operations against insurgent groups operating in Pakistan had encouraged hopes that their leaders were scattered.
At Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, the white marble floor was still stained with blood on Friday, and a pile of shoes and slippers was heaped in the courtyard, many of them belonging to the dead.
Outside, protesters shouted slogans at police, who they said had failed to protect the shrine.
The attacks have once again raised questions over the influence of Islamic State in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 190 million people that has tense relations with its neighbours India and Afghanistan.
Most of the other recent attacks have been claimed by factions of the Pakistani Taliban, which is waging its own fight against the government.