Taliban claims attack on Pakistan church that killed 78

Twin suicide bombs leave 120 injured in assault on Christians in city of Peshawar

 

At least 78 people, including 34 women and seven children, were killed today in a twin suicide bomb attack on a church in Pakistan, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said.

“Who are these terrorists killing women and children?” he said on live television, speaking from the northwestern city of Peshawar where the attack took place outside the church after Sunday mass.

A wing of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing in the city of Peshawar, saying it would continue to target non-Muslims until the United States stopped drone attacks in the country’s remote tribal region.

The latest drone strike came when missiles hit a pair of compounds in the North Waziristan tribal area, killing six suspected militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

“There were blasts and there was hell for all of us,” said Nazir John, who was at the church with at least 400 other worshippers. “When I got my senses back, I found nothing but smoke, dust, blood and screaming people.”

The attack was carried out by a pair of suicide bombers who detonated their explosives almost simultaneously, according to police.

The blasts killed at least 60 people and wounded another 120, said Arshad Javed, the top health official at the hospital in Peshawar where the victims were being treated. The dead included several women and children.

“This is the deadliest attack against Christians in our country,” said Irfan Jamil, the bishop of the eastern city of Lahore.

One of the wounded, John Tariq, who lost his father in the attack, asked of the attackers, “What have we done wrong to these people? Why are we being killed?”

Ahmad Marwat, who identified himself as the spokesman for the Jundullah wing of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack. “All non-Muslims in Pakistan are our target, and they will remain our target as long as America fails to stop drone strikes in our country,” Marwart told reporters.

The bishop in Peshawar, Sarfarz Hemphray, announced a three-day mourning period in response to the church attack and blamed the government and security agencies for failing to protect the country’s Christians. “If the government shows will, it can control this terrorism,” he said. “We have been asking authorities to enhance security, but they haven’t paid any heed.”

Hundreds of Christians burned tyres in the street in the southern city of Karachi to protest the bombing. “Although the government claims they are with minorities, we are being victimised,” said one of the protesters, Tariq Masih. “We need justice.”

Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack in a statement sent to reporters, saying, “The terrorists have no religion and targeting innocent people is against the teachings of Islam and all religions. Such cruel acts of terrorism reflect the brutality and inhumane mindset of the terrorists.”

Islamic militants have carried out dozens of attacks across the country since Mr Sharif took office in June, even though he has made clear that he believes a peace deal with one of the largest groups, the Pakistani Taliban, is the best way to tamp down violence in the country.

Pakistan’s major political parties endorsed Mr Sharif’s call for negotiations earlier this month. But the Taliban have said the government must release militant prisoners and begin pulling troops out of the northwest tribal region that serves as their sanctuary before they will begin talks.

There are many critics of peace talks, who point out that past deals with the Taliban have fallen apart and simply given the militants time to regroup. Supporters say negotiations are the only way forward since military operations against the Taliban in the tribal region have failed to subdue them.

AP