Mani Rana / Reuters

Dozens dead, injured as Pakistan Taliban splinter targets Christians

Two suicide bombers attack two churches; mob burns alive man they believed was involved

At least 14 people have been killed and dozens more wounded in bombings targeting two churches in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore.

A Roman Catholic church and a Christ Church in Lahore's Youhanabad area were hit in Sunday's suicide attacks, a Punjab police spokesperson told Al Jazeera. At least 70 people were wounded, said Zahid Pervez, the provincial director general of health.

Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a Pakistani Taliban (TTP) splinter group, claimed responsibility for both the attacks. The group appeared to have timed the attacks to cause maximum devastation, as the two churches were packed with Christians attending Sunday services when the bombs went off.

A spokesman for the faction said it was the work of two suicide bombers.

"The Tehreek-e-Taliban Jamaat-ur-Ahrar accepts responsibility for the suicide attacks on the churches in Lahore," Ahsanullah Ahsan, a spokesman for the Taliban faction, said in a statement emailed to reporters.

"We promise that until an Islamic system is put into place in Pakistan such attacks will continue. If Pakistan's rulers think they can stop us, they should try to do so," the statement added.

One unidentified witness told Pakistan's Geo television that the main gate to one of the churches targeted was closed so people were using a smaller gate.

"One bomber exploded himself near that gate, that created chaos and during the course there was another blast," he said.

Another witness told Reuters of a fight preceding the grisly attack. 

"I was sitting at a shop near the church when a blast jolted the area. I rushed toward 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.

"I saw his body parts flying through the air."

Irfan Ashraf, Lahore's deputy inspector-general of police operations, confirmed that a policeman and a private security guard were among the dead.

He said they gave up their lives to stop the bombers from entering the churches.

In the tense aftermath of the bombings, angry mobs burned to death one person they believed was involved in the attack and tried to lynch another, said Haider Ashraf, deputy inspector general for Lahore.

Local television footage showed an angry crowd beating a person they thought was connected to the attack, while others attacked buses in the city.

Youhanabad is the country's biggest Christian locality.

Lahore is the capital of Punjab, Pakistan's wealthiest province and the political heartland of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The city is generally considered peaceful compared to other areas of Pakistan but violence has been increasing after the government's failed attempts to hold peace talks with the Taliban last year.

The Christian community in Pakistan has long been the target of blasphemy cases besides attacks and hate crimes carried out by armed groups within the country.

In 2013 a pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up outside a historic church in Peshawar, killing more than 80 people and wounding at least 140 others.

Al Jazeera and wires


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