Terrorist Group Claims Pakistan’s Christians Were Intentionally Targeted
3/28/2016 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that at least 70 people have been killed and over 300 more wounded in a suicide bombing targeting Christians celebrating Easter in Lahore, Pakistan. This attack marks the second deadliest attack on Christians in Pakistan’s history following the suicide bombing of All Saints Church in Peshawar in 2013.
At approximately 6:30 p.m., a suicide bomber from an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban carried out the attack in the parking lot of Gulshan e-Iqbal Park where many Christian families were celebrating the end of the Easter Holiday. Rescue services in Pakistan have reported that at least 29 children were among the dead following the attack.
A spokesman for the Jamaat Ul-Ahrar group, an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban that has sworn alliance to ISIS, publically took responsibility for the attack. “It was our people who attacked the Christians in Lahore, celebrating Easter,” Ehsanullah Ehsan told the media. “It’s our message to the government that we will carry out such attacks again until sharia is imposed in the country.”
Leaders in Pakistan have condemned the attack and promised justice to the victims. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said, “Our goal is not only to eliminate terror infrastructure but also the extremist mindset which has threatened our way of life.”
On Monday, Pakistani security agencies began hunting down members of the Jamaat Ul-Ahrar group. Military spokesman General Asim Bajwa reported that intelligence agencies, the army and paramilitary Rangers launched raids around Punjab following the attack, capturing a number of suspects and a huge cache of arms and ammunition.
While speaking with ICC, Peter Jacob, Executive Director of the Center for Social Justice, said, “Now that Jamaat Ul-Ahrar have claimed responsibly and their target were Christians, it is clear that the extremists will use these attacks to challenge the political will of the government. The Christian community is the victim of a gory power conflict.”
Pastor Arshad Ashknaz, head pastor of Christ Church in Youhanabad, expressed deep sorrow over the loss of innocent people. He said, “The Christians will not protest against this incident. However, we urge the government to take action to protect the Christian community.”
Christians and their places of worship have recently been targeted by Pakistan’s Islamic extremists. On March 15, 2015, suicide bombers from the Jamaat Ul-Ahrar group attacked St. John’s Catholic Church and Christ Church in Lahore’s majority Christian neighborhood of Youhanabad, killing over 20 and wounding another 70. In September 2013, suicide bombers from the Pakistani Taliban attacked All Saints Church in Peshawar, killing over 130 Christians who were gathered there for Sunday worship.
ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, William Stark, said, “It is sad to see another senseless and extreme act of violence unleashed on Pakistan’s already vulnerable Christian community, especially as they were celebrating the Easter holiday. Christians and their places of worship are seen as convenient targets by Pakistan’s terrorists. Not only are they poorly protected by Pakistan’s security forces, they are also seen as an extension of the West in Pakistan. Following the bombings of All Saints Church in 2013, Pakistan’s Supreme Court wrote a suo moto opinion that demanded the Pakistani government take steps to secure both Christians and their places of worship. Many of the reforms detailed in that opinion have yet to be enacted. Because of this inability or unwillingness to protect the Christian minority, Christians in Pakistan have suffered two more major assaults by the country’s terrorist networks. First in 2015 when two churches were attacked in Youhanabad and yesterday with the bombing at Gulshan e-Iqbal Park. Pakistan must do more to secure its Christian minority or else attacks like these will continue.”