Lahore: At least 15 people were killed and over 80 others injured on Sunday when Taliban suicide bombers attacked two packed churches during the Sunday mass in Pakistan’s biggest Christian colony here, sparking mob fury in which two suspected militants were burned to death.
In one of the worst attacks on the minority community in recent times, two attackers blew themselves up at the gates of Roman Catholic Church and Christ Church in Youhanabad area of Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, causing stampede as panicked worshippers ran to save their lives.
The attacks later triggered mob violence in which two suspected militants were lynched and then set ablaze, resulting in their deaths.
The usual Sunday mass was underway at the churches when the two suicide bombers reached there and tried to break-in.
“When the guards stopped them from entering the churches, they blew themselves up (at the gates),” Christian leader of the locality Aslam Pervaiz Sahotra told PTI. He said a large number of Christians were present inside the churches at the time of the twin attacks.
After the explosions, enraged residents protested and lynched two suspects, police said.
“I was sitting at a shop near the church when a blast jolted the area. I rushed towards the spot and saw the security guard scuffle with a man who was trying to enter the church. After failing, he blew himself up,” said witness Amir Masih.
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“I saw his body parts flying through the air.”
The guard died as well, he said. It was not clear if the first blast was also triggered by a suicide bomber, Masih said.
Fourteen people were killed and 78 wounded, said Zahid Pervaiz, provincial director of general health.
“The rescue operation is still underway and the death toll may increase,” rescue services spokesman Sajjad Hussain said.
The Taliban faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility.
Following the blast, enraged residents lynched two men they suspected of involvement, a police official said. Journalist Riaz Ahmed said he had seen the two burnt bodies at an intersection.
Protesters also began smashing up shops and attacking vehicles. Police and several politicians were chased from the scene, residents said.
Pakistan’s police are notoriously poorly trained and under funded and its court system overburdened with a backlog of more than a million cases.
Lahore is the capital of Punjab, Pakistan’s wealthiest and most populous province and the political heartland of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The city is generally considered peaceful compared with many other areas of Pakistan, but violence there has been increasing after the government’s failed attempts to hold peace talks with the Taliban last year.
After the talks failed, the military launched an offensive in the remote northwestern region of North Waziristan along the Afghan border to push the Taliban from the last major region they controlled.
The military now holds the major urban centres there, but residents say many militants fled before the offensive began and others remain in rural areas.
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