Fifteen Killed, Dozens Wounded After Suicide Bombers Attack Two Churches in Pakistan
Enraged Christians Take to Streets in Protest
3/16/2015 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that fifteen people, including eleven Christians and four Muslims, were killed and over 70 others were wounded following the bombing of two churches in a predominately Christian neighborhood in Pakistan yesterday, March 15. Following the bombings, the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and warned of more to come.
At around 11:18 a.m., St. John’s Catholic Church in Youhanabad, a Christian neighborhood in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore, was attacked by a suicide bomber. Shortly after the bombing at St. John’s Catholic Church, at approximately 11:20 a.m., Christ Church, also located in Youhanabad, was similarly attacked. According to a local source, as many as 3,000 Christians were gathered at these churches for Sunday prayers.
At both locations, the assailants were prevented from entering the churches by security details set up outside the main gates. Samuel Masih, who witnessed the attack on St. John’s Catholic Church, told ICC that, “Three men attacked the church. Two opened fire and tried to enter the church compound. However, thank God they failed to enter because damage to the Christians could have been very high scale.”
Dr. Salamat Gill, a local activist, paid tribute to Aakash Bashir, age 22, who sacrificed his life to save many others by preventing a suicide bomber from entering St. John’s Catholic Church. Dr. Gill said, “Aakash volunteered his services for the church’s security. He is a hero of the Christian community and we will never forget his sacrifice.”
Father Francis Gulzar, a priest at St. John’s Catholic Church, told ICC that, “Three policemen were assigned on the main gate of the church to conduct body searches. However, instead of preforming their duty, the policemen were busy watching the Cricket World Cup on television at a nearby hotel.” Father Gulzar went on to take Pakistan’s government to task over providing better security to Christian places of worship and taking more affirmative action to curb terrorism.
Ayub Khokhar, who witnessed the attack on Christ Church, told ICC the attacker looked like a modern young man wearing eastern style clothing. Khokhar went on to say, “The attacker first opened fire at people around the church. He tried to get into the church compound, but failed and had to blast himself on the road.”
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack. According to the Wall Street Journal, the group’s spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said, “These attacks will continue until there is an Islamic system in Pakistan.”
Following the attacks, enraged Christians took to the streets in protest. Two unidentified men, accused of being involved in the attack, were beaten to death by protestors and their bodies were set on fire. Protestors blocked main roads, damaged local property, burned tires, and called on the government to provide their community with better security. Christian communities in both Karachi and Islamabad have organized protests in solidarity.
Christians and other religious minorities have often been the targets of terrorist groups in Pakistan. In September 2013, over 100 Christians were killed at All Saints Church in Peshawar when two suicide bombers attacked the church compound following a Sunday worship service. Once again, the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing.
ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, William Stark, said, “Christians in Pakistan continue to be treated as an unwanted religious minority. As these bombings clearly illustrate, Christians and their places of worship remain insecure and the target of Pakistan’s terrorist organizations. In 2013, over 100 Christians were killed at All Saints Church. Yesterday, more were murdered for no other reason than their religious identity and the fact that they attended church. Not enough has been done to secure Pakistan’s Christian community or to guarantee their right to religious freedom. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws continue to be misused as a means to settle personal vendettas or provide cover for attacks on entire Christian communities. Christian women across Pakistan continue to face the daily threat of abduction, forced marriage, and forced conversion at the hand of Islamic radicals. More must be done to secure both Pakistani Christians and their places of worship. Unless Pakistan takes decisive action to protect this highly persecuted minority, similar attacks will continue and Christianity in Pakistan could become a thing of the past.”