Terror in Lahore: Bombers target churches

Published: March 16, 2015
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A mob lights bonfires on the road after attacks on churches in Lahore. 
(Right) A woman mourns the death of her relative. PHOTOS: AFP/REUTERS

A mob lights bonfires on the road after attacks on churches in Lahore. (Right) A woman mourns the death of her relative. PHOTOS: AFP/REUTERS

LAHORE: 

Two suicide bombers targeted worshippers in two churches 500 metres apart in an impoverished neighbourhood of Lahore on Sunday, killing 16 people, including two Muslim guards of the churches, and injuring nearly 80 others. The attack sparked a wave of anger among Christians that culminated in a mob-style lynching of two suspected militants.

A splinter group of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed credit for the deadly attacks on Christ Church of the Church of Pakistan and Saint John’s Catholic Church in the Youhanabad area which falls in the constituency of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif.

The police guards at the churches were killed while preventing the bombers from entering the premises, the spokeswoman for the Punjab police said. “Policemen on duty at both the entrances tried to stop them but the bombers blew themselves up,” the spokeswoman, Nabila Ghazanfar, told AFP. The slain guards were identified as Qaiser and Yousuf.

The casualties were driven to the Lahore General Hospital which is located near Youhanabad. “We have received 14 bodies and 78 injured,” said Dr Muhammad Saeed Sohbin, the medical superintendent of the General Hospital.  Another two died during treatment.

Witnesses said that the Sunday service was about to end at both the churches when the bombers struck. Community member Yousaf Benjamin said the bombers detonated the explosives strapped to their bodies when they were stopped at the gates by the guards. DIG Dr Haider Ashraf said the bombers carried eight to 10 kilos of explosives in their suicide vests.

“Our eight-year-old child Abhishek was also killed in the blast. He had gone to the church to pray for good grades in exams,” Abhishek’s aunt, Rakshanda Parveen, told The Express Tribune as she cried profusely.

The TTP Jamaatul Ahrar claimed credit for the grisly attacks. “The TTP Jamaatul Ahrar claims responsibility for the attacks on Christians in Lahore,” the group’s spokesperson, Ehsanullah Ehsan, told the media in a phone call from an undisclosed location. However, it was clear that he was calling from somewhere in Afghanistan as he called from an Afghan number.

“We have reached Lahore, the centre of Punjab province, which is a challenge and a warning to the rulers,” Ehsan said. The attack came three days after Omar Khalid Khorasani-led Jamaatul Ahrar and Mangal Bagh’s Lashkar-e-Islam announced a merger with Mullah Fazlullah’s TTP. Surprisingly however, Ehsan still claimed responsibility for the Lahore attacks on behalf of the TTP Jamaatul Ahrar.

The deadly blasts sparked a rare show of anger by the beleaguered Christian community. Thousands of people took to the streets as they smashed vehicles, clashed with the police, attacked a Metro bus terminal and lynched two suspected accomplices of the bombers.

After the bombings, angry residents of Youhanabad that is home to nearly 100,000 Christians, started gathering outside the churches, where they caught two men who they suspected were accomplices of the bombers and started beating them. The crowd became unruly and lynched the suspects to death.

Some Elite Force personnel tried to rescue the suspects but the incensed protesters – many of them armed with clubs, sticks and bricks – stopped the police from taking the suspects into custody. The protesters took the bodies of the suspected militants to Ferozepur Road where they doused them in kerosene oil before setting them ablaze.

The police again tried to take the charred bodies into their custody but failed as the mob attacked the police personnel, forcing them run for their lives. Police vehicles at the spot were also attacked by the protesters after which armoured personnel carrier were called in.

The two bodies burnt for over five hours and were finally handed over to the police after senior officials pacified the protesters. A police official told The Express Tribune that the bodies were charred beyond recognition.

One protester said the men were lynched because they were accomplices of the suicide bombers. “They supported beards and tried to flee when residents asked them what they were doing in the area,” he said, while refusing to give his name.

The protesters, some wearing crosses round their necks, later turned to the city’s bus rapid transit system and uprooted the steel railing around Metro bus track. They later ransacked the Youhanabad terminal of the Metro bus and manhandled the staff. The ticketing counter and canteens of another terminal were also looted and ransacked.

Metro Bus Authority’s PRO Amir Masud told The Express Tribune that ticketing counter at Nishter station was damaged while Youhanabad station was destroyed. “We haven’t yet sent our people to the destroyed stations to appraise the damage done, due to security concerns. However, the authority fears losses worth millions of rupees,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 16th, 2015.

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