A pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up outside a 130-year-old church in Pakistan after Sunday Mass, killing at least 60 people in the deadliest attack on Christians in recent history.
By Ashfaq Yusufzai, in Peshawar, Taha Siddiqui in Islamabad and Dean Nelson in New Delhi
12:36PM BST 22 Sep 2013
Religious violence and attacks on security forces have been on the rise in Pakistan in past months, undermining Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to tame the insurgency after coming to power in June.
Two suicide bombers are believed to have entered the All Saints Church after shooting dead police guards, and detonated their explosive vests.
A Pakistani man helps an injured victim of a suicide attack at a church in Peshawar, Pakistan (AP)
Police said 350 members of the congregation were in the church when the bombers struck and that the death toll is expected to increase because many were being treated in hospital are in a critical condition. Dr Iqbal Afridi, medical superintendent at the city’s Lady Reading Hospital said he had declared a medical emergency and all leave for surgeons had been cancelled.
People gather outside the Christian church after the twin suicide bombings in Peshawar (EPA)
“The number of dead and will be more than 200 because the Church was full to its capacity,” one worshipper, Caroline White, told The Telegraph. She said something which sounded like a firecracker was thrown at the church before a huge explosion. The police had failed to properly protect the church, she added.
Medics help a young victim of the suicide bombing in Peshawar (EPA)
Sahibzada Anees, a local government official, told Associated Press the Sunday service is popular because worshippers receive a free meal on the lawn in front of the church following Mass.
The white walls and the floor of the church, which was built in 1851, were stained with blood and splattered with rice.
Parishioners said survivors were crying and hugging one another after the explosion, which had turned the church into a scene of carnage.
A man cries after his brother was killed in the suicide blast at a church in Peshawar (Reuters)
“There were blasts and there was hell for all of us … when I got my senses back, I found nothing but smoke, dust, blood and screaming people. I saw severed body parts and blood all around,” said Nazir John.
Shadqat Malik, head of the local bomb disposal unit, said most of the victims were women and children because the church is in Kohati Gate, a busy shopping market frequented by women buying food for their households.
The bombers had detonated 12 kilograms of explosive, hidden in their vests, and the intensity of the blast caused considerable damage to neighbouring buildings.
Injured Pakistani Christians arrive at hospital after two suicide bomb attacks on a church in Peshawar (AFP/Getty Images)
“We have found one head of one bomber, and are looking for the second one. The mass service had just ended so there were many people who were exiting the church when the bombers struck,” says Ismail Karak, Superintendent Police Security, speaking from the location.
The attack was condemned by Imran Khan, the former Pakistan cricket captain whose Tehreek-e-Insaf party controls the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa provincial government, as a “senseless” attack on innocent people. His health minister Shaukat Yousafzai said those behind the attack could not call themselves Muslims.
Residents from the area which dominated by members of Pakistan’s Christian and Hindu minorities – which make up less than five per cent of the country’s population, burned tyres and forced shops to close in protest at the government’s failure to protect them.
The site of the blast at a church in Peshawar (Reuters)
“We have been demanding security from the government because the religious minorities have been coming under attack in Pakistan,” says Haroon Sardayal, Chairman All Pakistan Hindu Rights Movement who lives in the same neighbourhood where the church is located and was on the site moments later.
“Today’s attack shows that despite our warnings the government is not waking up, which is condemnable,” Mr. Sardyal added.
There has been an upsurge in terrorist attacks on religious minorities in Pakistan in the last decade.
Christian churches have suffered grenade and machine gun attacks, while Pakistan’s Christian minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated in 2011 for opposing the country’s discriminatory blasphemy laws. Seven Christians were burned to death in 2009 when a Muslim mob torched 40 houses and a church.