15 killed in Lahore church-bombings, Christians go on rampage

Islamabad, March 15 (IANS) At least 15 people were killed in bomb attacks at two churches on Sunday in Pakistan’s Lahore city, triggering violent protests from the minority Christian community which took to the streets, killed two suspected attackers, smashed vehicles and clashed with the police, media reports said.

Two powerful explosions rocked the Catholic Church and Christ Church in the city’s Youhanabad area, home to the country’s biggest Christian population, killing at least 15 people and wounding more than 70 others, Pakistani daily Dawn reported.

Jamatul Ahrar, an offshoot of the Tehreek-e-Taliban, claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks which took place as large crowds were in the area to attend Sunday prayers.

Violent protests erupted in Lahore, the capital city of the Pakistani province of Punjab, soon after the blasts, the daily said, adding that a 4,000-strong Christian mob armed with clubs smashed vehicles. Television footage showed dozens of stick-wielding men ransacking the city’s metro bus terminal. Protestors also clashed with the police.

In Karachi, hundreds of Christians took to the streets and blocked roads. There were also demonstrations in Peshawar city in the country’s northwest, in the city of Multan and in Quetta in the southwest, according to Geo TV.

The report said two men suspected to be associated with the bombings were burnt alive by a mob in the presence of the police.

Seven policemen were deployed for the security of the churches, said Deputy Inspector General of Police (Operations) Haider Ashraf, of which two constables were killed while four others sustained injuries in the attack.

A man blew himself up outside one of the churches when a police guard stopped him from entering, Geo TV quoted a witness as saying. Police were collecting forensic evidence from the blast sites and would not confirm the report.

Rana Mashood, a government spokesperson, said the government was determined to tackle the issue of militancy and asserted that “terrorists will be brought to justice”.

He said they were not looking at the event as an attack on a particular community or members of one religion, according to Dawn.

Christians constitute around two percent of Pakistan’s population of 180 million and the community has been a target of terror attacks as well as riots in recent years.

“We are not separated by religion, this is an attack on Pakistan, and we feel their pain,” the report quoted Punjab Education Minister Mian Mujtuba Shuja-ur-Rehman as saying.

Sunday’s attack was the worst on the community since 2013, when twin suicide attacks at the All Saint’s Church in Peshawar’s Kohati Gate area left at least 80 people dead and over 100 others injured.

Meanwhile, missionary schools in Karachi and across Punjab will remain closed on Monday in protest against the attack.

President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the blasts and expressed grief over the loss of lives in the attacks.