March 16, 2015

PAKISTAN: Islamic Suicide Bombers Attacked Two Christian Churches In Lahore On Sunday. 15 MURDERED, 78 Injured. Obama's Friends The Taliban Claimed Responsibilty.

The Wall Street Journal
written by Qasim Nauman and Safdar Dawar in Peshawar
Sunday March 15, 2015

ISLAMABAD — Twin suicide bombings at two churches in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore killed at least 13 people, including two policemen, and wounded more than 65 people on Sunday, police officials said.

The back-to-back blasts shook the majority Christian neighborhood of Youhanabad as churches in the area held prayer services, police officials said. Emergency-services officials said several of the wounded are in critical condition and the death toll is expected to rise.

Police said two suicide bombers detonated explosive vests next to Christ Church and St. John’s Church after security prevented them from entering the compounds, which are a few hundred meters apart.

“Two policemen were martyred,“ said Nabila Ghazanfar, a spokeswoman for the Punjab police. “They were on duty [outside the churches] and tried to stop the suicide bombers.”

Ms. Ghazanfar added that around 500 worshipers were inside the churches when the bombers struck.

“The death toll would have been much higher had they succeeded in entering,” she said.

The attack sparked a protest by members of the Christian community in the area. Footage from the scene aired on local TV showed hundreds gathered outside the churches as rescue workers and police officials tried to clear the way for ambulances. Two unidentified men were accused of involvement in the attack by a group of protesters and were beaten to death by the crowd, police officials said.

The protesters blocked the main roads near the church, burning tires and chanting against the government of the Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital, for not providing adequate security to the community. Local news footage showed dozens of protesters storming a bus station and adjacent ticketing office, and were seen pulling down railings and damaging equipment.

Haider Ashraf, a senior Lahore police official, said authorities and Christian community leaders were trying to calm protesters. Mr. Ashraf added that protests delayed the arrival of investigators at the scene, and that police are still working on a definitive report on the bombings.

Christian communities across Pakistan, including its largest city Karachi and capital Islamabad, organized protests in solidarity with the Youhanabad victims and criticized the government for failing to protect them.

A faction of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombings.

“These attacks will continue until there is an Islamic system in Pakistan,” said Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesman for the faction, which had broken away from the main Pakistani Taliban group last year but rejoined this week.

The same faction had claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at a parade venue outside Lahore at the Wagah border crossing into India last year, an attack that killed dozens.

Sunday’s attack was the deadliest on Pakistan’s Christian community since suicide bombers killed more than 70 people at a church in the northwestern city of Peshawar in September 2013. Earlier that year, rioters burned more than 150 Christian homes in the Joseph Colony neighborhood of Lahore.

Christians are a small minority in Pakistan, making up less than 2% of the population. They routinely face discrimination and violence by extremists, human rights activists say.

The bombings prompted a call from Pope Francis for an end to the persecution of Christians, the Associated Press reported. Addressing the faithful Sunday in St. Peter's Square, Francis said he “implored God, the source of all good, the gift of peace ... for that country, and that this persecution against Christians, that the world tries to hide, ends,” the AP reported.

Major attacks against Pakistani Christians are relatively infrequent compared with attacks on other minority groups, such as Shiite Muslims, who are regularly targeted by Islamist extremists.
Protesters blocked roads Monday in protest over the bombings that killed more than a dozen people in the latest attack against religious minorities.— AP
Christians pray for victims of suicide bombings that struck two churches the day before, in Lahore.— AP

Dawn News, Pakistan
written by Staff and agencies
Sunday March 15, 2015

LAHORE: At least 15 people were killed and more than 70 injured when two Taliban suicide bombers attacked churches in Lahore on Sunday, sparking mob violence in which two other suspected militants died.

The bombings occurred during prayers at two churches located around half a kilometre apart in the city's Youhanabad neighbourhood that is home to more than 100,000 Christians, officials said.

Broken window panes, blood and shoes were scattered across the blast sites.

Police spokeswoman Nabila Ghazanfar said two policemen guarding the churches were among those killed in the attacks, while two people were beaten to death by protesters who took to the streets after the blasts.

“Policemen on duty at both the entrances tried to stop them but the bombers blew themselves up,” she told AFP.

The angry mob protesting after the blast beat to death two people whom they suspected of being associates of the attackers. An AFP photographer saw the bodies of the two suspected militants on fire after the beatings. It was not clear whether they were still alive at the time.

Up to 4,000 Christians later spread across the city’s streets; many were armed with clubs as they smashed vehicles and attacked a Metro bus station in a rare show of anger by the beleaguered minority.

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction claimed responsibility for the attack.

Rising anger
The thousands of Christian protesters who clashed with police on Sunday attacked their cars with stones and sticks, as women wept and beat their heads and chests.

The protesters, some wearing crosses round their necks, later turned on the city's bus rapid transit system -- a signature project of the ruling PML-N party of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Christians make up around two percent of Pakistan's mainly Muslim population of 180 million. They have been targeted in attacks and riots in recent years, often over allegations of blasphemy.

Sunday's attacks were the worst on the community since a devastating 2013 double suicide-bombing in Peshawar that killed 82 people. That attack came months after more than 3,000 protesters torched some 100 houses as they rampaged through Joseph Colony, another Christian neighbourhood of Lahore, following blasphemy allegations against a Christian man.

Sharif in a statement condemned the church bombings and “directed provincial governments to ensure the security of (the) public and their properties”.

Zaeem Qadri, a spokesman for the provincial government, said efforts were being made to talk to the protesters to stop the rioting but “emotions are very high because their churches have been attacked”.

Christians also took to the streets in other cities, including Karachi, where around 200 protesters blocked a main road and burnt tyres. There were also demonstrations in Peshawar in the northwest, in the central city of Multan and in Quetta in the southwest.

Sunday's attack was the first by the Taliban since three of their major factions said on Thursday they had reunited.

The military has stepped up its fight against militants since Taliban gunmen massacred more than 150 people, most of them children, at a school in Peshawar in December.

A moratorium on executions in terror cases was lifted and the constitution amended to set up military courts for the speedy trial of terrorism cases. Later, the death penalty was reinstated for all capital cases.

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