Pakistan church blast: Peshawar bombs kill 78

Prime minister Sharif condemns twin suicide blasts after Sunday service in Peshawar

Asia Correspondent

Pakistan’s Christian community is reeling after at least 78 people were killed and 120 wounded in a double suicide blast attack outside a church in Peshawar – the deadliest ever assault on one of the country’s long-persecuted minorities.

Witnesses said they heard two blasts as people made their way out of the historic church in the city’s Kohati Gate district. A free lunch was being served to the congregation on the front lawn. Police later said they had discovered the remains of two suicide bombers who had approached the crowds and detonated their bombs.

Television images showed widespread damage and bloodied members of the congregation being helped into ambulances. Officials said there had been hundreds of people at the church on Sunday morning. In the aftermath, rice and Bible pages littered the scene.

“Thank God that this happened after the service was over,” Samuel Asghar, the archdeacon of the Diocese of Peshawar, told The Independent, explaining that the toll would otherwise have been even higher. “We had received no warning. This happened suddenly… Please pray for the families and those suffering.”

The attack at the All Saints Church in the north-western city happened around 11.30am on Sunday. Reports said the white walls of the Anglican church, which dates from 1883, were pocked with holes most likely caused by ball bearings packed into the devices.

While Pakistan’s Christian community has suffered many attacks in recent years, such attacks have usually been in private homes following allegations of blasphemy. In 2009, a church and 40 houses were set ablaze by a mob of 1,000 Muslims in the town of Gojra.

Sunday’s bomb attack stunned many with the scale of its devastation and was widely condemned by political and community leaders. Christian communities in several parts of the country launched protests. On a visit to Sardinia, Pope Francis led several thousand people in a special prayer for the victims of the attack.

Nazir John, a member of the congregation, told Associated Press: “There were blasts and there was hell for all of us. 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.”

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, a former information minister of surrounding Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told reporters the number of casualties from the blasts was so high that the hospital treating the victims was running out of beds for the wounded and caskets for the dead.

On Sunday evening it was reported that a faction of the Pakistan Taliban had claimed responsibility for the attack. Various extremist groups have been blamed for previous attacks on Pakistan’s Christian community, which accounts for about 1.5 per cent of the population.

The attack comes as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is seeking to open the way for talks with the Pakistan Taliban as part of a broader peace deal. On Saturday, a former leader of the Afghan Taliban was released from Pakistani custody as part of attempt to help the peace process in Pakistan.

The major political parties all endorsed Mr Sharif’s call for negotiations earlier this month. But the Taliban has said the government must release militant prisoners and begin pulling troops out of the north-west tribal region that serves as its sanctuary before it will begin discussions.

Facing accusations that he is wrong to negotiate, Mr Sharif condemned Sunday’s attack, saying: “The terrorists have no religion and targeting innocent people is against the teachings of Islam and all religions.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks