At least 81 Christians have been killed in a suicide bombing of a historical church in Peshawar, the capital city of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Sunday. This bombing is the deadliest single attack on Christians in Pakistan’s history and has sparked protests across the nation.
According to reports from Peshawar, two suicide bombers detonated themselves outside the gates of All Saints Church at 11:45 a.m. as the church’s more that 600 members were leaving after the Sunday service. The resulting scene was that of mass carnage with shrapnel, body parts and blood littering the surrounding area.
According to security officials, many of the dead are women and children and over 150 others were injured in the blast. Most of the wounded were brought to Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar and many of the bodies of the dead were buried in three mass graves late Sunday night.
All Saints Church was established in 1883 and is considered one of the oldest Christian places of worship in Pakistan’s volatile Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The Jundallah group, an affiliate with the Pakistani Taliban, has claimed responsibility for the deadly attack, labeling the murder of 81 Christians a “protest” to the U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. The group’s leader, Ahmad Marwat, promised that attacks would continue until the U.S. drone strikes were halted.
News of the attack has sparked Christian led protests in many of Pakistan’s major cities including Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar. Relatives of the dead and injured gathered for a protest outside of All Saints Church, lighting tires on fire and claiming police and local government officials did not do enough to protect Christians and the church.
In response to the attack, Pakistan’s government has declared three days of mourning and is offering financial support to the victims and their families. Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, issued a statement in which he pledged solidarity with Pakistan’s Christian community.“Terrorists have no religion, and targeting innocent people is against the teaching of Islam and all religions,” he said.