By Misbah Saba Malik
ISLAMABAD, (PNA/Xinhua) — At least 78 people were killed and over 146 others injured when a twin suicide bomb attack hit a Christian church in Pakistan’s northwest Peshawar city on Sunday, officials said.
Zaheer-ul-Islam, deputy commissioner of Peshawar, said that the fatal blast killed 78 people and injured 146 others who are being treated at Lady Reading Hospital in the city.
He said that the incident happened at about 11:45 a.m. local time when two suicide bombers blew up their explosive-laden vests inside the church when around 500 to 600 people of Christian community were coming out of the church after offering Sunday prayers.
He said that the explosion hit one of the city’s oldest churches called “Pakistan Church”, located in Kohati Gate area of Peshawar, the capital city of the country’s northwest Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province.
Briefing about causalities, Chief Executive of Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar said that the dead bodies include two policemen, seven children and 34 women, while the injured people included 44 women and 11 children.
He said that there might be a rise in fatality number as several among the injured people were in critical condition.
Shafqat Malik, inspector general of Bomb Disposal Squad, said that the blasts took place one after another and the two suicide bombers were carrying an estimated 7 kg of explosives each in their explosive vests.
Priest Ijaz, administrator of the church, said that the blasts occurred when some people were going back to their homes after prayers and some were having lunch outside the prayer hall.
“We were going out of the church after expressing our gratitude to God in prayers when the bomber attacked us. He killed our women, our kids and our men mercilessly,”said the father of a deceased minor girl.
Christian community across the country announced a three-day protest against the incident and urged the government to provide security to churches across the country.
Christians in the country’s southern port city of Karachi blocked several roads and pelted stones at police and the passing traffic, causing damage to several vehicles.
Protesters in eastern Lahore city, Islamabad and southwest city of Quetta also held peaceful demonstrations to protest against the brutal killing.
Bishop Sadiq Daniel, representative of Christian community in Pakistan, condemned the attack and said that no religion allows anyone to attack religious places.
Security at all churches across the county was beefed up following the blast, reported local media.
The provincial government announced 500,000 rupees (about US$ 4,717) in compensation to the families of the deceased and 200,000 rupees(about US$ 1,887) to the families of the injured people.
Both Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have condemned the attack.
Local TV Waqt reported that Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan Jandola group, a fraction of Pakistan Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that they would continue attacking non-Muslims until the permanent stoppage of U.S. drone strikes in Northwest Pakistan.
The attack took place at a time when the country’s army and political parties were in the process of conducting peace talks with Taliban militants.
The attack was followed by a U.S. drone strike that left seven people killed and three others injured. The drone attack occurred when Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to raise the issue during the forthcoming UN General Assembly meeting from Sept. 23 to 29.