Update: [Over Sixty dead in twin blast in Peshawar Church, news by The Hindu]
It occurred as hundreds of worshipers were coming out of the church in the city’s Kohati Gate district after services to get a free meal of rice offered on the front lawn.
The Sunday prayers at the All Saints Church inside the Kohati Gate area of Peshawar ended in tragedy as two suicide bombers dressed in police uniforms blew themselves up while people were coming out and killed at least 60, apart from injuring over 100. This is a major terrorist strike on a church though last year, protestors burnt and ransacked St Paul’s church in Mardan, over 60 km from Peshawar.
As the country was stunned by the latest bomb blast, fifty doctors and scores of medical personnel grappled with the severely wounded, many of them women and children at Lady Reading hospital. Eleven of those injured in blast have been evacuated to the Combined Military Hospital in Peshawar for emergency medical treatment.
Police said that the terrorists opened fire at the security guards at the entrance of the church, possibly killing one. An eyewitness Ahmed Ali who lives near the church told a private TV channel that the blasts took place around 11 am near the church when he saw a person blowing himself up and a little later another man did the same thing. The blast shattered the glass panes of nearby houses including his own, Ali said.
The death toll is expected to rise as many of the injured are in a critical condition. While the police say it was a suicide bombing no group has as yet taken responsibility for this. Security agencies were quoted as saying that each of the bombers was carrying six kg of explosives. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) government has decided to tighten the security for minorities and institutions after this incident.
All Saints Memorial church with its distinctive Saracenic architecture first opened for service in December, 1883. In a statement online, the Rt Rev Humphrey S. Peters, Peshawar has condemned the suicide attack and said it was a total failure of the new KPK government which did not provide security to the minorities in the province. He said he spoke to one of the parish members who lost his aunt and nephew in this attack. Among the dead were a number of Sunday School children and choir members of the Church who were all in the compound at the time of the blasts.
Shiraz Paracha, spokesperson for the KPK chief minister told The Hindu from Peshawar that this kind of terrorist bombing was unprecedented in Peshawar and condemned the shocking incident. He said there was no room for such attacks on minorities. The church is located in Kohati Gate, an inner city area of Peshawar and the incident has been strongly condemned by the chief minister Parvez Khattak. He said that this act of terror on minorities was absolutely unacceptable and the government was planning to extend all forms of help to the people injured or to the families of those who were killed.
Meanwhile there was all round condemnation of the bombing and protest rallies were being taken out in some parts. Churches across the country have announced a three- day mourning in protest, according to TV reports, as leaders called for peace. The Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf which heads the KPK government, condemned the blast and said protection of minorities is a central duty of the state, provincial and federal governments. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement has called for a three- day mourning in support of the Christian community.
The Peshawar Diocese was created in 1980 and it is one of the largest in the country. The total number of Christians living in the KPK Province is around 100,000 out of a provincial population of around 17 million, according to the Diocese website. Last September in Mardan over an hour’s drive from Peshawar, a protest against a film turned violent resulting in the burning and ransacking of St. Paul’s Church and the school, the library, the vicarage and two other houses inside the premises.
On the day he was leaving for New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the bomb blasts and said terrorists have no religion. Targeting innocent people is against the teachings of Islam and all religions. He expressed solidarity with the Christian community and has directed the Cabinet Division to immediately make helicopters available to the KPK Government for evacuation of injured for specialized treatment to Islamabad or any other city.
[Associated Press] A suicide bomb attack on a historic church in northwestern Pakistan killed at least 52 people and wounded over 100 Sunday, officials said, in one of the worst assaults on the country’s Christian minority in years.
The bombing underlines the threat posed by Islamic extremists as the government seeks a peace deal with domestic Taliban militants.
It occurred as worshippers were coming out of the church in Peshawar city following services to get a free meal of rice offered on the front lawn, said a top government administrator, Sahibzada Anees.
It was not immediately clear whether one or two suicide bombers carried out the attack.
Witnesses said they heard two blasts, the second more powerful than the first. One police officer, Zahir Shah, said he believed both blasts were caused by suicide bombers.
The dead included several women and children, said Sher Ali Khan, a doctor at a hospital in Peshawar where the victims were being treated.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion will likely fall on one of the country’s many Islamic militant groups. Islamic militants have been blamed for previous attacks on the Muslim country’s Christian minority, as well as Muslim groups they consider heretics.
Islamic militants have carried out dozens of attacks across the country since Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took office in June, even though he has made clear that he believes a peace deal with the largest group, the Taliban, is the best way to tamp down violence in the country.
Pakistan’s major political parties endorsed Sharif’s call for negotiations earlier this month. But the Taliban have said that the government must release militant prisoners and begin pulling troops out of the northwest tribal region that serves as their sanctuary before they will begin talks.