Pakistan: Taliban target Sufis —again

Twin suicide attacks on the shrine of a Sufi saint in the Pakistani city of Lahore July 1 left 44 dead and 175 injured. The first blast went off at 11:20 PM in the basement of the tomb, an area reserved for ablutions; the second bomb exploded minutes later in the main prayer area which was crowded with worshipers who gather every Thursday for special rituals.

The Data Darbar, also known as the Data Ganj Baksh, is one of the oldest Islamic shrines on the subcontinent. It houses the remains of a Sufi saint, Abul Hassan Ali Hajvery, who is said to have lived on the site in the 11th century. For centuries his tomb was visited by Muslims and Hindus alike in search of his blessings; since partition, most visitors have been Muslim, although people of all religions are welcome. Pakistan's main opposition leader Nawaz Sharif is a frequent visitor.

The shrine, located near the Bha'tee Gate into Lahore's Walled City, was originally built by the Ghaznavi sultan Zakiruddin Ibrahim after the saint's death, and has been expanded several times since. There have been rising security fears in recent years following numerous threats by Pakistan's Taliban militants.

The day after the blasts, the Sunni Tehreek movement marched in Rawalpindi, seat of Pakistan's armed forces, and pledged continued mobilizations if the perpetrators are not arrested. Sunni Tehreek leaders charged that the government is continuing to protect terrorists. (The Sunni Tehreek is an organization launched by the Sufi-influenced and traditionally quietistic Barelvi school in response to the threat of fundamentalism.)

The bombings come a month after over 100 were killed in twin attacks on Ahmadiyya mosques in Lahore. At least 550 have been killed in retaliatory attacks by militants in cities nationwide after Pakistan's military launched operations in the northwest last year. This was the second assault on the tomb of a Sufi saint, after militants blew up the Rehman Baba shrine in Peshawar in March 2009. (Bloomberg, SAMAA TV, Pakistan, Hindustan Times, India, July 2; BBC News, July 1)

See our last posts Pakistan, the Sufis and the struggle within Islam.

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