A bomb planted on a motorcycle exploded at the gate of a famous Sufi shrine in central Pakistan during morning prayers Monday, killing at least five people, officials said.
The blast at the Farid Shakar Ganj shrine in Punjab province was the latest in a string of attacks targeting Sufi sites in Pakistan. Islamist militants often target Sufis, whose mystical practices clash with their hardline interpretation of Islam.
The dead from Monday's blast included at least one woman, said Maher Aslam Hayat, a senior government official in the town of Pakpattan where the shrine is located. At least 13 others were wounded in the explosion, he said.
The bombing significantly damaged nearly a dozen shops on either side of the street outside the shrine, leaving large piles of rubble and broken wood. Blood stained the ground and the wall of one of the damaged shops.
Irshad Ali, the owner of a nearby shop that sells beads, rushed to the site after hearing the explosion at around 6:20 a.m. local time.
"Within minutes I was here and saw a horrible scene," Ali told The Associated Press. "Victims were being loaded into vehicles and dust and smoke was in the air."
The shrine itself, which is dedicated to a 12th century Sufi saint, was largely undamaged. But the blast ripped off an old wooden door at the entrance to the shrine's grounds.
Just outside the gate, explosive experts examined the twisted and charred body of the motorcycle on which the bomb was placed.
The motor bike was parked near a group of people eating breakfast at a stall outside the shrine. They were among those killed and wounded in the blast, said Ali, the shopkeeper.
He said a security camera used to monitor the gate was removed a few days ago without explanation.
After the attack, a top Sufi scholar, Mufti Muneebur Rehman, criticized the government for not doing enough to protect the Sufi population. Pakistan is 95 percent Muslim, and the majority practice Sufi-influenced Islam.
"Our rulers are too busy serving foreign masters and have not prioritized protecting the people and sacred places from terrorists," said Rehman.
Earlier this month, two suspected suicide bombers attacked a beloved Sufi shrine in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, killing at least eight people and wounding 65 others.
A suicide attack in July killed 47 people at the nation's most revered Sufi shrine, Data Darbar in the eastern city of Lahore. That attack infuriated many Pakistanis, who saw it as an unjustified assault on peaceful civilians.
The government has waged a sustained military campaign against militants based in its semiautonomous tribal region along the Afghan border who have declared war against the Pakistani state. But militant violence remains a problem.
Also on Monday, suspected militants shot and killed a paramilitary soldier and wounded another while they were on foot patrol in the town of Mamound in the Bajur tribal area, said local government official Jamil Khan.
Farther south, a roadside bomb struck a passenger van in the Orakzai tribal region, killing three people and wounding two others, said Aurangzeb Khan, a local government administrator. The blast tore apart the vehicle, which was passing near the village of Tanda.
The Pakistani military declared victory in Orakzai in June after pounding Taliban militants in the area for months with airstrikes and artillery. But militant attacks and military operations in the area have continued.
Army helicopter gunships pounded suspected militant hideouts in Orakzai on Sunday, killing 15 alleged insurgents, said Jehanzeb Khan, another local government official.
Associated Press writers Babar Dogar in Lahore, Hussain Afzal in Parachinar and Anwarullah Khan in Khar contributed to this report.