KARACHI: A powerful blast ripped through the sufi shrine of Lal Shehbaz Qalandar in Sehwan town of Pakistan's Sindh province on Thursday, killing at least 80 people, including women and children. Around 200 have been injured .

At least 72 people were killed and over 200 injured when a suicide bomber struck in the midst of devotees at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan town, some 200 kilometres northeast of Karachi. The deadly attack was reminiscent of a near-identical bombing at Dargah Shah Noorani, in Khuzdar district of Balochistan, in November last year.

The bomber entered the compound from the Golden Gate side and headed straight for the area where a crowd of devotees was performing dhamaal (an ecstatic devotional dance), The Express Tribune reported. Since it was Thursday evening, which is considered a sacred time for prayers, there was an extraordinary rush of devotees at the shrine.

“So far 72 people — 43 men, 20 children and nine women — have been killed and more than 150 wounded,” IG Sindh AD Khawaja said. “Many wounded people are in a critical condition and they will be shifted to Karachi as soon as Navy helicopters and a C-130 plane reach the nearest airport.”

Eidhi rescue officials said toll was much higher.

Witnesses said dozens of wounded people were being ferried in private cars, in auto rickshaws, on carts, and on foot to hospitals. Emergency services are basic in Sehwan, with the nearest main hospital some 130 kilometres away. Dr Moeen, the medical superintendent of the Taluka Hospital Sehwan, said that they had received 50 bodies — some of which were mutilated beyond recognition.

“More than 250 people are injured — 42 of them critically,” he said, adding that those with life-threatening wounds were being moved to hospitals in nearby districts. A state of emergency had been declared in hospitals in Dadu, Sehwan and Hyderabad. Provincial Health Minister Dr Sikander Mandro said an emergency had been declared in Karachi hospitals too.

Lal Shahbaz Qalander is one of the country’s most revered shrines, dedicated to a 13th-century saint whose spirit is invoked by devotees in ecstatic daily dancing and singing rituals in Sehwan Sharif. However, most of the country’s myriad radical militant groups despise Sufis and other religious minorities as heretics.

The ISIS or Daesh, Iraq and Syria based militant group which has a small but increasingly prominent presence in Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the attack, the group’s affiliated news agency AMAQ reported. There were unconfirmed reports that the suicide bomber was a woman. And based on preliminary investigations, police said the bomber carried over 20 kilos of explosives in his suicide vest.

The country has seen an upsurge in terrorist violence over the past few days, with bombers striking in Lahore, Peshawar, Mohmand Agency, and now in Sindh. Seven people were killed in two suicide attacks in Mohmand, while a bomber targeted a van carrying lower court judges in Peshawar.

The high death toll in Thursday’s bombing makes it one of the worst attacks in the country in recent years. In August last year, at least 74 people, mostly lawyers, were killed in a gun and suicide attack at Quetta’s Civil Hospital. The Jamaatul Ahrar (JuA) faction of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Islamic State claimed responsibility for that atrocity. The JuA also said it was responsible for a bombing in Lahore earlier this week that killed 13 people.  (With additional input from Agencies)