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
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
books
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Customer Support Technician

£15000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Waterlooville based softwa...

Ashdown Group: C# Developer - (C#, VB.Net, SQL, Git, TDD)

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Developer (C#, VB & ASP.Net, SQL Server, TSQL) - Pe...

Recruitment Genius: Associate Sales Consultant

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Associate Sales Consultant i...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established and expanding ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot