September 23, 2013 – Suicide Attack on Pakistani Church Kills at Least 70: At least 70 people attending Sunday church services were killed by twin suicide bombings in Pakistan‘s northwestern city of Peshawar, officials said, in one of the bloodiest attacks against the country’s Christian minority in years. Pictured above, a Christian woman mourned next to the coffin of her brother, who was killed in a suicide attack on a church in Peshawar.
More than 100 people were injured in the attack, carried out by two militants wearing explosive vests who had managed to enter the church. A group allied with the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility.
“I’ve never seen such piles of human bodies,” said Arshad Javed, chief executive of Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital.
Christians, a small minority in overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan, hadn’t up until now been a focus of the campaign of violence that has been unleashed in recent years by the Pakistani Taliban and their al Qaeda-affiliated allies. That campaign has claimed thousands of lives, with government officials, soldiers, secular politicians and members of the Shiite Muslim minority among the victims.
The U.S., meanwhile, has been targeting Taliban leaders operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas with drone strikes, a practice that the Pakistani government says it opposes.
“Until drone strikes are stopped, we will continue with this. Consider this the first of our actions,” Ahmed Marwat, a militant commander of Jandullah, a group that works closely with the Pakistani Taliban, said after the Peshawar bombings. “Whoever is non-Muslim will be targeted.”
Also on Sunday, the latest such drone strike killed six militants and injured four in the Shawal area of the South Waziristan tribal area, local officials and Taliban commanders said. A statement from Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the drone strike would damage relations with the U.S.
Pictured above, a man mourns the death of a relative, killed Sunday by a suicide bomber in one of the worst assaults on Pakistan’s Christian minority in years.
“These drone strikes have a negative impact on the mutual desire of both countries to forge a cordial and cooperative relationship and to ensure peace and stability in the region,” the ministry said.
The blasts in Peshawar came days after another militant attack killed a Pakistani army major-general, dealing a further setback to plans by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to open peace negotiations with the Taliban.
Mr. Sharif had proposed peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban earlier this month, after managing to get a consensus of parliamentary parties behind the proposal.
The strongest proponent of these peace talks is Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the political party led by former cricket star Imran Khan, one of the most vehement opponents of U.S. drone strikes. PTI controls the Peshawar-based government of the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which has borne the brunt of Taliban attacks.
Mr. Khan, while condemning Sunday’s attack on the Peshawar church, suggested it was a sinister conspiracy to spoil the peace talks initiative.
“Isn’t it strange that whenever peace talks pursued, these attacks take place, and I want to point out that there was also a drone strike today,” said Mr. Khan, after visiting the hospital in Peshawar. “An attempt is being made to keep Pakistan in the strife that it has suffered for the last nine years.”
The plan for peace talks was already in trouble after the Pakistani Taliban, based in the tribal areas along the Afghan border, laid out a series of hard-to-meet preconditions for negotiations. The recent killing of the army general further undermined the chances of these talks getting under way.
Pakistan has long been under pressure from Washington to launch military operations in the tribal areas. Some analysts believe that Mr. Sharif’s strategy of dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban was always likely to fail, making a military offensive in the tribal areas inevitable.
“The terrorists have no religion and targeting innocent people is against the teachings of Islam and all religions.” Mr. Sharif said of Sunday’s Peshawar attacks. “Such cruel acts of terrorism reflect the brutality and inhumane mind-set of the terrorists.”
The Pakistani Taliban operate independently of the Afghan Taliban and are even more radical. However, they had until now left the Christian communities, even those living in the tribal areas, relatively unharmed.
Christians protested outside the church and the hospital in Peshawar on Sunday, and there were protests by Christians in other towns across Pakistan. The Christian community announced three days of mourning, with churches and missionary schools slated to be closed.
“We were praying inside the church when there was a blast. There were injured people everywhere, and blood all around and screaming and crying,” said worshiper Hyat Bhatti, who was injured in the foot. “Then, maybe three minutes later, there was a second blast.”
Another worshiper, Anwar Patrick, who was wounded in the head and leg, said the gates of the church were closed before the explosions.
“I don’t know how they got in,” said Mr. Anwar, who was taken for treatment to the Lady Reading Hospital. “So many women, so many of my relatives, have been injured or killed,” he said.
Shaukat Yousafzai, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial health minister, put the death toll at 70, but with dozens critically injured, that is likely to rise further.
The Peshawar city police chief, Muhammad Ali Babakhel, said two police officers had been stationed at the historic church in the heart of the old city, with one of them killed and the other injured.
Pakistani Christians are a mostly poor minority, estimated to number about 2 million people, or just over 1% of Pakistan’s population. They often hold menial jobs and the community complains regularly of discrimination and the imprisonment of some Christians on false blasphemy charges. (Credits – The Wall Street Journal, Reuters & the Associated Press).
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