“Punjabi militants are sectarian in origin, and when they find themselves unable to attack government or security targets, they will lash out at other sects,” says Ashaar Rehman, the Lahore editor of Dawn, a leading Pakistani daily.
Last May, militants attacked two Ahmadi-sect mosques in Lahore, killing almost 100. Militant groups in Pakistan predominantly follow the conservative Deobandi or Ahl-e-Hadith strains of Sunni Islam, and view Ahmadis, Shiites, and other strains of Sunnis (such as Sufis) to be heretics.
The Data Darbar shrine is over 900 years old and houses the remains of Abul Hassan Ali Hajvery, a figure revered by Muslims and Hindus alike. Every Thursday night, adherents gather to pray and make their devotions to the saint through dance, in stark contrast to the austere form of Islam practiced by the Taliban. It is the “biggest icon of Lahore,” says Mr. Rehman, and the attack represents a major step-up in what he calls “the battle for competing ideologies.”
The last major attack on a Sufi shrine took place at the Rahman Baba shrine in Peshawar in March 2009.
Outside the Data Darbar shrine on Friday, worshipers lashed out at the government but promised to remain uncowed.