15 die in suicide attacks at Pakistan churches

A woman mourns over a family member who was killed in Lahore. Picture: AP

A woman mourns over a family member who was killed in Lahore. Picture: AP

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A PAIR of suicide bombers blew themselves up near two churches in Lahore yesterday as worshippers were gathered inside, killing 15 people in the latest ­attack against religious minorities in an increasingly fractured Pakistan.

In the tense aftermath of the blasts in the east of the country, an angry Christian mob turned violent, blocking a major highway, burning cars, ransacking a bus terminal – and setting two people on fire who the mob suspected of involvement in the attacks. Christian demonstrators also blocked roads in other major Pakistani cities.

The explosions occurred in quick succession in the Christian neighbourhood of Youhanabad at two churches while parishioners were worshipping at Sunday morning services inside. The churches are about 650 yards apart. At least 70 people were also wounded, said Zahid Pervez, the provincial director general of health.

Area hospitals were flooded with casualties and scenes of mourning. Shaheen Bibi’s ten-year-old son Abhishak was among those killed.

“My son had gone to the church to pray for a good result in his examinations,” Ms Bibi said as she cried and struck her head against the chest of a relative. “He wanted me to sew him some new clothes if he passed his examinations.”

Life in Pakistan is increasingly dangerous for religious minorities, especially Christians. They have been targeted by extremist Sunni Muslim militants and are also discriminated against in wider society, where they are often limited to menial jobs such as refuse collection.

Witnesses said the bombers targeted a crowded gate when a large group of worshippers was waiting to enter one of the churches.

“One bomber exploded himself near that gate, that created chaos and during the course of that, there was another blast,” a witness told Pakistan’s Geo television.

After the blasts, the mood among survivors quickly turned violent.

Much of the country is already on edge after years of militant violence, including an attack on a Peshawar school in December that killed 150 people, mostly students. In 2013, twin blasts at a church in Peshawar killed 85 people.

The angry crowd yesterday attacked two people they thought were connected to the attack, and later burned them to death, while others attacked buses in the city, said deputy inspector general of police Haider Ashraf.

Two police officers who were protecting the churches were also killed in the explosions, which Mr Ashraf confirmed were caused by suicide bombers.

A spokesman for the Punjab provincial government, Zaeem Qadri, condemned the attacks but also said it was unfortunate the mob had killed the two suspects rather than handing them to police. He said authorities are reinforcing security at the 481 other churches across the city.

Militants seem to have targeted minorities more intensively recently, including attacks on a string of mosques belonging Shiite Muslims, a minority in Pakistan.

“There will be more of such attacks,” warned Ahsanullah Ahsan, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taleban, which claimed responsibility for the assault, in a statement yesterday.

Prime minister Nawaz Sharif has his power base in Lahore and his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, also runs the Punjab government, where his brother is chief minister. The provincial government has been accused in the past of not doing enough to protect religious minorities and fight extremist groups based in the region.

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