CHRISTIANS ATTACKED: AT LEAST 78 KILLED IN SUICIDE BOMBING AT PAKISTAN CHURCH

Fox News on September 22, 2013, published an AP report on a pair of suicide bombers blowing themselves up amid hundreds of worshippers at a historic church in northwestern Pakistan on Sunday, killing 78 people in the deadliest-ever attack against the country’s Christian minority. Excerpts below:

A wing of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing, raising new questions about the government’s push to strike a peace deal with the militants to end a decade-long insurgency that has killed thousands of people.

The Jundullah arm of the Taliban said they would continue to target non-Muslims until the United States stopped drone attacks in Pakistan’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.

The attack on the All Saints Church, which wounded 141 people, occurred as worshippers were leaving after services to get a free meal of rice offered on the front lawn, said a top government administrator, Sahibzada Anees.

“There were blasts and there was hell for all of us,” said Nazir John, who was at the church in the city’s Kohati Gate district along with at least 400 other worshippers. “When I got my senses back, I found nothing but smoke, dust, blood and screaming people. I saw severed body parts and blood all around.”

Survivors wailed and hugged one another in the wake of the blasts. The white walls of the church, which first opened in the late 1800s, were pockmarked with holes caused by ball bearings contained in the bombs to cause maximum damage. Blood stained the floor and the walls. Plates filled with rice were scattered across the ground.

The attack was carried out by two suicide bombers who detonated their explosives almost simultaneously, said police officer Shafqat Malik.

The 78 dead included 34 women and seven children, said Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. Another 37 children were among the 141 wounded, he said.

The number of casualties from the blasts was so high that the hospital ran short 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.

The bishop in Peshawar, Sarfarz Hemphray, announced a three-day mourning period 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,” said Hemphray. “We have been asking authorities to enhance security, but they haven’t paid any heed.”

Hundreds of Christians burned tires in the street in the southern city of Karachi to protest the bombing.

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

Pakistan’s major political parties endorsed 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.

“I don’t think appeasement will work,” said Farhatullah Babar, a senior leader of the main opposition group, the Pakistan People’s Party. “This is a message from them that they don’t believe in negotiations. If they don’t, we should also stand up and fight them.”

The U.S. has repeatedly demanded that Pakistan take stronger action against Islamic militants, especially members of the Afghan Taliban who use the country as a base for cross-border attacks on American troops in Afghanistan.

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