The Sunday prayers at the All Saints Church inside the Kohati Gate area of Peshawar ended in tragedy as two suicide bombers dressed in police uniforms blew themselves up while people were coming out and killed 78 people, 34 of them women, apart from injuring over 100. This is a major terrorist strike on a church though, last year protestors burnt and ransacked St. Paul’s church in Mardan, over 60 km from Peshawar. One of the terrorists detonated himself outside the church whereas the other person entered the compound where at least 600 people were present, according to news reports.
Seven children were killed and 37 of them are injured. Eleven persons are critical, according to Minister of Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who rushed to Peshawar to review the situation. He also said that the government would bear the cost of rebuilding the damaged church and declared a three-day mourning. Missionary run schools will be shut for three days in protest.
As the country was stunned by the latest bomb blast, fifty doctors and scores of medical personnel grappled with the severely wounded many of them women and children at Lady Reading hospital. Eleven of those injured in the Kohati Gate blast have been evacuated to the Combined Military Hospital in Peshawar for emergency medical treatment.
Police said that the terrorists opened fire at the security guards at the entrance of the church, possibly killing one.
An eyewitness Ahmed Ali who lives near the church told a private TV channel that the blasts took place around 11 a.m. near the church when he saw a person blowing himself up and a little later another man did the same thing. The blast shattered the glass panes of nearby houses including his own, Mr. Ali said.
The death toll is expected to rise as many of the injured are in a critical condition. While the police say it was a suicide bombing no group has as yet taken responsibility for this. Security agencies were quoted as saying that each of the bombers was carrying six kg of explosives. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) government has decided to tighten the security for minorities and institutions after this incident.
All Saints Memorial church with its distinctive Saracen architecture first opened for service in December 1883. In a statement online, the Rt. Rev. Humphrey S. Peters of Peshawar has condemned the suicide attack and said it was a total failure of the new KPK government which has failed to provide security to the minorities in the province. He said he spoke to one of the parish members who lost his aunt and nephew in this attack. Among the dead were a number of Sunday School children and choir members of the Church who were all in the compound at the time of the blasts.
Shiraz Paracha, spokesperson for the KPK Chief Minister told The Hindu from Peshawar that this kind of bombing was unprecedented in Peshawar and condemned the shocking incident. He said there was no room for such attacks on minorities. The church is located in Kohati Gate, an inner city area of Peshawar and the incident has been strongly condemned by the Chief Minister Parvez Khattak. He said that this act of terror on minorities absolutely unacceptable and the government was planning to extend all forms of help to the people injured or to the families of those who were killed.
Meanwhile there was all round condemnation of the bombing and protest rallies were being taken out in some parts of the country. Churches across the country have announced three-day mourning in protest, according to TV reports as leaders called for peace. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf which heads the KPK government, condemned the blast and said protection of minorities is a central duty of the state and provincial and federal governments. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement has called for three- day mourning in support of the Christian community.
The Peshawar Diocese was created in 1980 and it is one of the largest in the country. The total number of Christians living in the KPK Province is around 100,000 out of a provincial population of around 17 million, according to the Diocese website. Last September in Mardan over an hour’s drive from Peshawar, a protest against an allegedly "blasphemous" film turned violent resulting in the burning and ransacking of St. Paul’s Church and the school, the library, the vicarage and two other houses inside the premises.
On the day he was leaving for New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the bomb blasts and said terrorists have no religion. Targeting innocent people is against the teachings of Islam and all religions. He expressed solidarity with the Christian community and has directed all possible help by the Cabinet Division to immediately make helicopters available to the KPK Government for evacuation of injured for specialized treatment to Islamabad or any other city.