Twin suicide bombings kill 14 people outside Pakistan churches
LAHORE // Fourteen people were killed and more than 70 injured when two Taliban suicide bombers attacked Christian churches in Pakistan on Sunday.
The attacks in Lahore led to 4,000 Christians, many armed with clubs, taking to the streets of the eastern city.
Two suspected militants were beaten, lynched and set on fire while vehicles and a city bus station were attacked in a rare show of anger by the minority group.
The bombings occurred during prayers at two churches about half a kilometre apart in the city’s Youhanabad neighbourhood – home to more than 100,000 Christians.
Doctor Mohammed Saeed Sohbin, of the nearby General Hospital, said: “We have received 14 bodies and 70 injured.” He added that the figure did not include the suspected militants or the bombers.
Zahid Pervez, the top health official in Lahore, confirmed the death toll but put the number of wounded at 78.
Broken window panes, blood and shoes were scattered across the blast sites.
Police spokeswoman Nabila Ghazanfar said two policemen guarding the churches were among those killed.
“Policemen on duty at both the entrances tried to stop the bombers, but they blew themselves up,” she said.
A witness saw the bodies of the two suspected militants on fire after they had been beaten and lynched.
The Pakistani Taliban’s Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction claimed responsibility for the suicide attacks and vowed to continue their campaign for the enforcement of Sharia Islamic law.
Christians make up about 2 per cent of Pakistan’s mainly Muslim population of 180 million. They have been targeted in attacks and riots in recent years, often over allegations of profanity regarding the Quran or the Prophet Mohammed.
Sunday’s attacks were the worst on the community since a devastating double suicide-bombing in the north-western city of Peshawar in September 2013 in which 82 people were killed.
That came months after more than 3,000 Muslim protesters torched about 100 houses as they rampaged through Joseph Colony, another Christian neighbourhood of Lahore, following blasphemy allegations against a Christian man.
The thousands of Christian protesters who clashed with police on Sunday attacked their cars with stones and sticks, as women wept and beat their heads and chests.
The protesters later turned on the city’s bus rapid transit system – a signature project of the ruling PML-N party of prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
Mr Sharif condemned the church bombings and “directed provincial governments to ensure the security of [the] public and their properties”.
Zaeem Qadri, a spokesman for the provincial government, said efforts were being made to talk to the protesters to stop the rioting, but “emotions are very high because their churches have been attacked”.
Christians also took to the streets in other cities, including Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, where about 200 protesters blocked a main road and burnt tyres.
There were also demonstrations in Peshawar in the north-west, in the central city of Multan and in Quetta in the south-west.
Sunday’s attack was the first by the Taliban since three of their major factions said on Thursday that they had reunited.
Pakistan’s military has stepped up its fight against militants since Taliban gunmen massacred more than 150 people, most of them children, at a school in Peshawar in December.
A moratorium on executions in terror cases was lifted and the constitution amended to set up military courts for the speedy trial of terrorism cases.
Last week, the death penalty was reinstated for all capital cases.
* Agence France-Presse
Published: March 15, 2015 04:00 AM