A pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up outside a 130-year-old church in Pakistan after Sunday Mass, killing at least 56 people in the deadliest attack on Christians in the predominantly Muslim South Asian country.
Violence has been on the rise in Pakistan in past months, undermining Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to tame the insurgency after coming to power in June.
An assault of this scale is certain to give ammunition to Sharif’s critics who are against his campaign to negotiate a ceasefire deal with Taliban-linked militants fighting to topple his government in the capital Islamabad.
The attackers struck the historic white-stone All Saints Church in the north-western city of Peshawar just as hundreds of parishioners streamed out of the building.
“I heard two explosions. People started to run. Human remains were strewn all over the church,” said one parishioner, who only gave her first name, Margrette.
Her voice breaking with emotion, she said she had not seen her sister since the explosions ripped through the gate area outside the church.
The Taliban-linked militant group TTP Jundullah claimed responsibility for the attack.
“They are the enemies of Islam, therefore we target them,” said the group’s spokesman, Ahmed Marwat. “We will continue our attacks on non-Muslims on Pakistani land.”
The number of casualties from the blasts was so high that the hospital was running out of caskets for the dead and beds for the wounded, said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, a former information minister of surrounding Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province who was on the scene.
“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?”
While the report mentions the attack happened following a “Mass,” it appears the church is not Catholic, but is connected to the Episcopal Diocese of Peshawar.