LAHORE, Pakistan (AFP) – Shops and offices were shut across the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Saturday in a protest strike over twin suicide attacks on an Islamic shrine which killed 43 people.
Police said they have “apprehended” several people in their investigation into Thursday’s bombings, which left a trail of carnage at a packed Sufi shrine, but have made no formal arrests.
Raghib Naeemi, a leader of a Sunni Muslim council that called the strike, said a major rally was being planned on Saturday evening.
“We will continue our protest till the government takes some concrete actions to curb terrorist activities,” he said.
Angry protesters had taken to the streets in Pakistan on Friday, burning tyres and blaming Taliban extremists for the latest bloodshed in the city, a major military, political and cultural hub.
An AFP reporter said markets were closed on Saturday and roads deserted in the otherwise bustling city. Schools are already closed for the summer holidays, while offices also observe a Saturday-Sunday weekend.
Investigators said they had yet to identify the two suicide bombers who blew themselves up among crowds of worshippers at the shrine to Sufi saint Data Ganj Bakhsh in Lahore, capital of Punjab province.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility and the Pakistan Taliban, which has been blamed for a wave of bloody attacks over the past three years, denied it was involved.
Police also said they had uncovered 20 suicide bombing vests and two dozen police commando uniforms during a raid in Lahore late Friday.
Investigators said it may take some time to identify the bombers, who were caught on camera in dramatic closed-circuit television footage of the bomb blast and the carnage and chaos that ensued.
“We quizzed the family of a man, we were suspecting to be one of the suicide bomber, but he turned out to be one of the victims. His body has been handed over to the family,” a senior investigator told AFP.
About 700 people attended the man’s funeral Saturday outside Lahore with mourners insisting on his innocence.
“This gathering condemns terrorism. We are peaceful people. Terrorists should stop this bloodbath,” prayer leader Asghar Farid said at the funeral mass of 27-year-old Mohammad Rafiq.
Pakistan has been hit by a wave of Islamist militant attacks over the past three years which many attribute to Islamabad’s alliance with Washington and the US-led war against the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan.
In May, gunmen wearing suicide vests storm two mosques belonging to the minority Ahmadi sect in Lahore, killing at least 82 people.
The United States led Western condemnation of the Sufi shrine attack, which US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described as a “brutal crime” and vowed to support Pakistan against militants who wish to “destabilise” the country.
The United States last year approved a five-year 7.5 billion-dollar package aimed at reducing the appeal of extremists in the Islamic world’s only declared nuclear power by building infrastructure, schools and democratic institutions.
But the United States remains wildly unpopular with the Pakistani public, enflamed by a covert US drone war against Islamist targets in lawless tribal on the Afghan border that Washington considers the global bastion of Al-Qaeda.