17 March 2015

Suicide bomb attack on Churches in Lahore, Pakistan, 15 March 2015

Suicide bomb attack on Churches in Lahore

The following report was sent by Columban Fr Liam O'Callaghan in Pakistan.

On Sunday morning, March 15 there were two suicide attacks on two Churches in Yohannabad, Lahore – St. John’s Catholic Church and Christ Church Protestant Church, in which 15 were killed and over 70 injured. The first attack was on St John’s but it could have been much worse as the security guards stopped the attackers who detonated the bomb outside the gate. A few minutes later the second attack happened at Christ Church which is only a short distance away. People at the church claim that two of the three Government police on duty were actually at a nearby shop watching the Pakistan-Ireland World Cup cricket game and as a consequence the bomber got further into the church compound and most of the deaths and injuries were at Christ Church.

Violent protests erupted after the blasts, with a mob killing two men accused of involvement in the attacks and news reports also claimed the mob set their bodies on fire. There is deep anger in the Christian community at the Government’s failure to protect minorities, especially in the aftermath of the suicide bomb attack in All Saints Church, Peshawar on 22 September 2013 in which 83 people were killed. There were protest marches by Christians in other cities all over the country on Sunday.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Mamnoon Hussain have condemned the latest bombings. The Government also announced compensation for the victims – Rupees 500,000 (US$5,000) to each of the families of those who were killed and Rupees 75,000 (US$750) each for those injured,

Nabila Ghazanfar, a spokeswoman for the Punjab police, said the deaths from the attack on Sunday included 13 worshipers, two police officers deployed for security outside the churches and the two suspects beaten to death by the mob, in addition to the two bombers. Dr Muhammad Saeed, the chief doctor at Lahore General Hospital, where scores of the wounded were brought, said that many were in critical condition.

Sacred Heart Cathedral, Lahore [Wikipedia]

Yohannabad has the biggest concentration of Christians in Lahore with an estimated 100,000 living there. There are numerous problems facing the community – poverty, unemployment, drug use, violence - and a sense that the entire area is being neglected by the government in terms of development and infrastructure.

The militant group, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, has claimed responsibility for the attack. Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, is an umbrella organisation of various militant groups, one of which is Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. In September 2014 Jamaat-ul-Ahrar split from the TTP amid leadership rivalries. The splinter group launched a series of devastating suicide attacks and later announced its allegiance to the Islamic State group, a move that was seen as signalling frustration over waning support from an embattled al-Qaeda and hope that Islamic State might send men or money. 

However, on last Thursday, 12 March, the group's spokesman announced that it was rejoining the Pakistani Taliban.Today, Monday, is a day of mourning and all missionary schools have been closed as a mark of respect. Most of the funerals are taking place today. Please keep in your prayers all those in Pakistan who suffer at the hands of extremists as well as for peace in the country.

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