Quetta, Pakistan (AP) — A suicide bomber struck a Shiite shrine packed with worshippers in a remote village in southwestern Pakistan on Thursday, killing 20 people and leaving at least 25 wounded, a provincial government spokesman and the police said.
Within hours, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.
The bomber detonated his explosives vest when he was stopped for a routine search by a police officer guarding the shrine in the village of Jhal Masgi, about 400 kilometers (240 miles) east of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province.
Anwarul Haq Kakar, spokesman for the provincial government, said the death toll could rise further as some of the wounded remained in critical condition.
Mohammad Iqbal, a district police chief, said five children, a woman and one police officer were among those 20 people killed in the bombing. He said they found body parts of the attacker and investigators were trying to determine who was behind the bombing.
Sarfraz Bugti, the provincial home minister, said “terrorists have shown their inhumaneness by attacking innocent civilians” at the shrine.
Atif Ali Shah, the custodian of the shrine, told reporters that had the attacker managed to enter the shrine, there would have been many more casualties. The police officer who stopped the bomber and other guards who rushed to the scene “saved many lives,” he said.
Hundreds of devotees were present at the shrine for a monthly gathering when the bomber hit. Local TV footage showed people crying for help in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
Just hours earlier, Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said the military had received credible reports of upcoming terror attacks. Ghafoor told a news conference in the garrison city of Rawalpindi that the government has been alerted about possible attacks.
The claim by the IS affiliate in Pakistan came later Thursday, in a statement posted on the Islamic State-linked Aamaq news agency.
IS and other Sunni extremists perceive Shiites as apostates who should be killed and have carried out many such attacks in the past, targeting minority Shiite Muslims in Baluchistan and elsewhere in the country.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi condemned the attack, saying that “terrorists have no religion” and that his government will act against militants with full might.
In June, at least 75 Shiite Muslims were killed in twin bombings at a market in Parachinar in the country’s northwest. At the time, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a sectarian Sunni extremist group, claimed the bombings in Parachinar, which is a majority Shiite town.
In February, an Islamic State suicide bomber struck inside a famed Sufi shrine in southern Sindh province, killing 88 worshippers as they performed a devotional dance known as “dhamal.”
Baluchistan, which shares a border with Sindh province, has also been the scene of a low-level insurgency by Baluch nationalists and separatists demanding more autonomy and a greater share in the region’s natural resources such as gas and oil. However, Islamic militants have also carried out scores of attacks in the province.