Pakistan mourns church victims, Christians protest

Islamabad (IANS): Pakistan on Monday mourned the dead in the deadly suicide attacks on two churches in Lahore that killed 15 people, as Christians took to the streets to denounce the ghastly massacre.

Provincial governments declared Monday a day of mourning. All missionary schools and colleges were shut across the country, officials and the media reported.

Security was stepped up in churches and missionary institutions while patrolling by police and Pakistan Rangers were enhanced, Dunya TV quoted officials as saying.

Prayer ceremonies were held in churches across Pakistan on Monday.

Two powerful explosions on Sunday rocked the Catholic Church and the Christ Church in Lahore’s Youhanabad area, home to the country’s biggest Christian population.

The churches are separated by half a kilometre.

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

Violent protests erupted at the site after the blasts, with a 4,000-strong Christian mob armed with clubs smashing vehicles and setting fire to two suspected terrorists.

Television footage showed dozens of stick-wielding men ransacking the city’s metro bus terminal. Protesters also clashed with the police.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the anger and grief of the Christian community in the wake of the terror attack strengthened the government’s resolve to counter terrorism.

“Our Christian community has rendered invaluable services to the motherland, particularly in the social sector, and we consider them as our honour and pride,” Sharif said.

Pakistan’s Christian community on Monday took to the streets in Faisalabad and Lahore.

Protesters gathered at Faisalabad’s Millat road where they burnt tires and attacked a rickshaw, Dawn online reported. They also blocked the Kamalpur Interchange on Faisalabad motorway.

Following the mob attack on the metro bus terminal in Lahore, authorities curtailed bus routes on Monday.

In Karachi, hundreds of Christians blocked roads. There were also demonstrations in Peshawar in the country’s north-west and in the cities of Multan and Quetta.

On Monday, police registered cases over the twin bombings.

Senior Superintendent of Police Rana Ayyaz Saleem said discussions were on file a case over the retaliatory violence too.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar described the church bombings as tragic and said the extremists appeared intent on dividing Pakistan.

He said attacks on mosques and churches depicted the “wretched condition” of terrorist outfits outlawed by the government.

The minister said further steps were needed to eradicate militancy in the country.