LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - Three suicide bombers struck a Sufi shrine in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore on Thursday, killing at least 41 people and wounding more than 120, officials said, the second major attack in the city in a month.
Hundreds of devotees were visiting the marble shrine of the 11th century Persian Sufi saint, Syed Ali Hajwairi, commonly known as Data Gunj Bakhsh, in the heart of the city when the attacks occurred.
Muslims in Pakistan visit shrines and mosques in large numbers on Thursday nights and Friday.
“Dead bodies are scattered all over the courtyard of the shrine,” Reuters photographer Mohsin Raza said from the scene. “There is blood everywhere. Two of the dead were my friends. It’s very horrifying,” he said in a choked voice.
One of the attackers blew himself up at the gate of the sprawling, marble shrine while two other attacks took place in the basement of the shrine where people were washing for prayers.
Sajjad Bhutta, a top city administrator, said at least 41 people were killed and 122 wounded.
Mian Rauf, a witness, said devotees were settling down inside the mausoleum and the courtyard for final prayers when the attacks happened.
“First there were three small blasts. People got panicky and started running. But within moments there were big explosions,” he said.
“It was all chaos. People were screaming for help and running here and there. It was all smoke. Nothing could be seen and only cries could be heard.”
Taliban militants generally abhor the Sufi strand of Islam and disapprove of visiting shrines, which is popular with many Pakistanis.
Militants linked to al Qaeda and Taliban have unleashed a wave of attacks across Pakistan in revenge for the military offensives in their bastions in the northwest of the country near the Afghan border.
While most of the reprisal militant attacks have taken place in the northwest, militants have stepped up attacks in the heartland of the country, mainly the central province of Punjab, in recent months. Lahore is the capital of Punjab.
Officials have blamed attacks in the province on the “Punjabi Taliban,” a term used for the militants drawn from Punjab who have joined ranks with Taliban in the northwest.
More than 80 people were killed in twin attacks on the mosques of the minority Ahmadi sect in May.
The shrine at Data Darbar is one of the most famous in Pakistan, attracting hundreds of devotees every night, with Thursdays being the most popular nights. The complex includes a mosque and a police station in the basement.
Farahnaz Ispahani, spokeswoman for President Asif Ali Zardari, condemned the attack: “This sickening poison of extremism will be driven out of our nation and we will not be cowed.”
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said the attack on the shrine showed that “terrorists have no consideration for any religion, faith and belief.”
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