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16 March 2015

Christians killed protesting against church bombings

Christians killed protesting against church bombings

Photo credit: British Pakistani Christian Association

Suicide bombers have reportedly left at least 14 people dead and 78 injured as worshippers were subjected to attacks while attending two churches in Youhanabad, Lahore, Pakistan this Sunday.

According to local pastors there have been threats made against the churches of Yohanabad for three months, but police have not provided additional protection.

Anger has spilt onto the streets following the atrocities, with reports that enraged groups have attacked suspected terrorists. Two suspects are said to have been tortured and burnt to death on the Ferozepur Road by a furious crowd.

Father Gulzar of the attacked Saint John's Catholic Church told the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) that police have been brutally beating many protestors with excessive aggression and force, leading to riots in which four Christian men have been killed.

Sections of the media in Pakistan are also suspected of stoking tensions by falsely reporting that Christians are smashing vehicles. Christian and Muslim leaders are calling for calm, but there is concern that the situation could escalate, with protestors now clashing with police.

Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the BPCA, said: "The situation is getting extremely tenuous.  Christians are being blamed incorrectly during a relatively peaceful process and we are concerned that the violence will escalate as local mosques are not being prevented from preaching hatred.  

"It is imperative that churches pray for the situation now. We need God's divine intervention if peace is to be restored any time soon."

Pastor Ashknaz of Christ Church, the first to be attacked, told Pakistan Today: "The church service was about to end when we heard 12 to 13 gunshots at the main door and within seconds a loud explosion shattered the windowpanes of the church and the nearby shops and houses. We immediately huddled everyone out of the church building from the back door." 

Reports suggest that the death count would have been much larger if it wasn't for the brave actions of volunteer security forces and a few police officers, who spotted the bombers and prevented them from entering the church.

Maryam Bibi, a church parishioners at Christ Church, told BPCA: "As soon as the service finished I could hear guns firing and I asked my mother to stay seated at the front of the church. Soon after there was blast at the gate and pieces of flesh and blood sprayed across all of those in the church. 

"Everywhere I looked there was broken window panes, blood and shoes scattered across the blast site."

Many of injured victims were taken to Lahore General Hospital and discharged with minor injuries, however at least 35 were admitted under critical condition. 

Saint John's Catholic Church was the second to be attacked, and here also many lives were saved by the actions of a volunteer, Zahid Yousaf, aged 45.

He wrestled an explosive-laden terrorist to the ground and was then shot and killed. Pakistan Today reports that at least 1,200 Christians were in the church at the time of the attack, and that a second bomber was also prevented from entering the building by a young Christian.

A Pakistani Taliban (TTP) splinter group, Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, has claimed responsibility for both attacks.

Al Jazeera reports that Ahsanullah Ahsan, a spokesman for the Taliban faction, has said: "We promise that until an Islamic system is put into place in Pakistan such attacks will continue. If Pakistan's rulers think they can stop us, they should try to do so." 

Pakistan is notorious for the impact of its blasphemy laws on Christian citizens who frequently face false accusations and the threat of attacks and imprisonment. Just months ago in another Christian area of Lahore, Joseph Colony, a Christian man was accused of blasphemy, reportedly leading to a rampage during which 3,000 Muslim protestors torched some 100 houses.

Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association explains: "This latest attack on an innocent Christian community is symptomatic of the hatred and vilification that Christians and other minorities face in Pakistan.

"My heart aches for my brothers and sisters in Pakistan who are undergoing such extreme persecution. The global Church has to speak out for this voiceless community or their suffering is set to get worse." 

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a member of the Alliance's Religious Liberty Commission, is calling for the perpetrators to be apprehended and held accountable, and for the Pakistani government to learn the lessons from the 2013 twin suicide attacks, which killed 180 people at All Saints Church, Peshawar.

CSW claims that the government has still not fulfilled its pledge to bring justice to the victims of the 2013 attacks, including delivering on its promise of compensation.

Please pray for the victims and their family members, for churches in Lahore and for peace on the streets following these brutal attacks.

Please also pray for action by the Pakistani government to protect Christians and ensure they can live in freedom and peace.

Update: The South Asian Forum of the Evangelical Alliance has joined with the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) to demand swift action from the Pakistani government. Read more in our press release.

Visit the BPCA website, including details of how to donate to their victim appeal.