Taliban attacks on Pakistan churches kill 14, spark riots
LAHORE - Agence France-Presse
Pakistani Christians and rescue workers gather outside a church damaged from a suicide bombing attack in Lahore, Pakistan, March 15, 2015. AP Photo.Fourteen people were killed and more than 70 injured when two Taliban suicide bombers attacked churches in Pakistan on March 15, sparking mob violence in which two other suspected militants died.
The bombings occurred during prayers at two churches located around half a kilometre apart in the Youhanabad district of Lahore city, a neighbourhood that is home to more than 100,000 Christians, officials said.
Doctor Mohammad Saeed Sohbin, medical superintendent of the nearby General Hospital, told AFP: "We have received 14 dead bodies and 70 injured," adding that the figure did not include the suspected militants.
Zahid Pervez, the top health official in Lahore, confirmed the death toll and told reporters that 78 people were wounded in both attacks.
Broken window panes, blood and shoes were scattered across the blast sites.
Earlier, police spokeswoman Nabila Ghazanfar said two policemen on guard duty had been killed in the attacks, while two people were beaten to death by protesters that took to the streets after the blasts.
"Policemen on duty at both the entrances tried to stop them but the bombers blew themselves up," she told AFP.
"The angry mob protesting after the blast beat to death two people whom they suspected of being associates of the attackers."
An AFP photographer saw the bodies of the two suspected militants on fire after the beating. It was not clear whether they were still alive at the time.
The Pakistani Taliban's Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction described the blasts as suicide attacks and vowed to continue their campaign for the enforcement of Sharia Islamic law in a statement emailed to the media.
Christians make up around two percent of Pakistan's mainly Muslim population of 180 million. They have been targeted in attacks and riots in recent years, often over allegations of profanity regarding the Koran or the Prophet Mohammed.
Sunday's attacks was the worst on the community since a devastating double suicide-bombing in the northwestern city of Peshawar in September 2013 killed 82 people, sparking a fresh wave of anger at the government for failing to protect Christians.
That came months after more than 3,000 Muslim protesters torched some 100 houses as they rampaged through Joseph Colony, another Christian neighbourhood of Lahore, following allegations of blasphemy against a Christian man.
Hundreds of Christian protesters clashed with police on Sunday, attacking their cars with stones and sticks, as women wept and beat their heads and chests.
The protesters later turned on the city's bus rapid transit system, a signature project of the ruling PML-N party of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Sharif issued a statement condemning the bombings and "directed provincial governments to ensure the security of (the) public and their properties".
Christians also took to the streets in other cities, including Pakistan's largest city Karachi, where around 200 protesters blocked a main road and burnt tyres.
Sunday's attack was the first carried out by the Taliban since three of their major factions said on Thursday they had reunited.
Pakistan's military has stepped up its fight against militants since Taliban gunmen massacred more than 150 people, most of them children, at a school in Peshawar in December.
A moratorium on executions in terror cases was lifted and the constitution was amended to set up military courts for the speedy trial of terrorism cases.