Suicide bombings in Christian area of Pakistani city kill at least 14
KARACHI, Pakistan (CNN) — Suicide bombers attacked a Christian community in eastern Pakistan on Sunday, setting off two blasts that killed at least 14 people and wounded dozens more, officials said.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the deadly attack and warned of more to come.
The explosions, which struck the Nishtar Colony area in the city of Lahore, wounded at least 78 people, said Dr. Muhammed Saeed Sohbin, medical superintendent at Lahore General Hospital.
Video from the scene aired by CNN affiliate GEO News showed twisted metal, shattered glass and panicked residents outside a church compound. Ambulance and security personnel were seen moving in. Later footage showed water cannons arriving to disperse the crowd.
Pakistani Taliban reunited
Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, said by telephone that his group was responsible for the suicide bombings, declaring that such attacks would continue until Sharia law is implemented in Pakistan.
After a period of disunity, the terrorist group’s three major splinter groups announced last week that they were joining forces again under the name Tehrik-i-Taliban, or TTP.
Prime Minister condemns attack
The Pakistani military has been waging a campaign against the militant group in North Waziristan, one of the loosely governed tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose government held unsuccessful peace talks with the TTP last year, strongly condemned Sunday’s attack, according to a statement from his office.
Sharif asked provincial governments to tighten security and “take all possible measures” to protect people and property, the statement said.
Christian couple burned
The last major attack on Pakistan’s Christian community took place in 2013, when suicide bombers struck a church in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing more than 80 people.
More recently, a Christian couple were burned to death in November by mob that accused them of blasphemy.
“The Christian community is a soft target for militant outfits in Pakistan,” said Rabia Mehmood, a researcher at the Jinnah Institute, a Pakistani think tank. “But generally Christians and other religious minorities are under a constant threat by the extremist elements in the society and rampant religious intolerance.”
On Sunday, Pope Francis said he learned of the attacks “with pain, with much pain.”
He called for peace in Pakistan and said that persecution of Christians doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
The Pope prayed that “this persecution against Christians, which the world tries to hide, might end, and that there be peace.”
Other minorities in the predominantly Sunni Muslim nation have also been targeted this year. Last month, an attack on a Shiite mosque in Peshawar killed at least 19 worshipers and injured dozens of others. The Pakistani Taliban reportedly claimed responsibility for that attack, too.
CNN’s Sophia Saifi reported from Karachi, Pakistan, and Jethro Mullen wrote from Hong Kong. CNN’s Brian Walker and journalists Saleem Mehsud and Adeel Raja contributed to this report.
By Sophia Saifi and Jethro Mullen