ISLAMABAD— Two suicide bombers attacked a Christian congregation in the northwest Pakistani city of Peshawar at the end of Sunday worship services, killing at least 78 people and critically wounding 120 others.
One of the attackers stormed the main entrance of All Saints Church in Peshawar’s Kohati Gate area, firing a pistol at police guards, killing one, and tossing a grenade, according to the city’s police chief, Mohammed Ali Babakhel. Prevented from entering the church by police fire, he detonated the 13 pounds of high explosives in the jacket he was wearing.
Thirty seconds later, a second attacker who was already inside detonated a bomb.
About half of the 350 worshippers escaped without injury.
No one claimed responsibility immediately for the attack.
The terrorist attack in Peshawar was the worst on a minority religious community since May 2010, when attacks on two congregations of followers of the Ahmadi reform branch of Islam killed 94 people.
The attack on the church Sunday sparked protests by Christians and other minority communities in Peshawar and other cities across the country, and was condemned by the government and Muslim scholars.
It was followed shortly after by a CIA drone attack on a suspected militant compound in the North Waziristan tribal area, the last remaining stronghold of the militants in Pakistan after a four-year military counteroffensive involving 150,000 troops.
The U.S. drones fired four missiles into a compound in Shawal, an area of North Waziristan on the border with Afghanistan, killing six suspected militants and wounding three others, security officials said. The identity of those killed was not immediately apparent.
Christians make up roughly 2 percent of Pakistan’s estimated 200 million population. They are among the poorest Pakistanis and largely consigned to menial professions, partly because of discrimination by the Muslim majority.
The two communities have mostly co-existed in harmony, but Christians have increasingly in recent years been accused of blasphemy by religious extremists for burning Quranic texts.
The accusations have frequently provoked mob violence by Muslims, including the 2009 arson of a church and 77 Christian homes in the central town of Gojra, in which seven Christians died. But many of the accusations have later been turned out to be spurious, including complaints filed by a Muslim man whose sexual advances had been rejected a Christian woman.
Blasphemy is punishable by death under laws introduced in the 1980s by the military dictator Gen. Mohammed Zia-ul Haq, who championed religious militancy among Afghan rebels fighting Soviet occupation forces.Haq also fostered discrimination against religious minorities and women, reducing the legal value of their eyewitness statements to half those of male Muslims.
Subsequent attempts by liberal Pakistani politicians to amend the blasphemy laws have been met with violent opposition, including the 2011 assassinations of the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, and the minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian.
Moderate members of the Islamic Ideology Council, a Pakistani government-sponsored body of Muslim scholars, earlier this month proposed an amendment to the blasphemy laws that would have made false accusers liable to capital punishment. The move was blocked by conservative clerics, who included those who had worked with Haq to introduce the controversial laws.
- MCT Campus