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Both the media and mosques have been accused of escalating the situation with hate messages. Riots erupted in reaction to explosions which killed at least 14 in two churches. Christians have asked the government to take real action to protect churches.
Hundreds of Christians have protested over the last few days in Lahore after suicide bombers killed at least 17 people and injured 78 as worshippers were subjected to attacks while attending two churches in Youhanabad (Lahore, Pakistan) last Sunday.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan called for calm and urged protesters not to take the law into their own hands as they blocked roads and burned tyres in Youhanabad, Lahore's largest Christian neighbourhood.
Protests have also been taking place in the eastern cities of Faisalabad, Sargodha and Gujranwala.
Christian missionary schools around the country are closed as Pakistan observes a day of mourning.
FIRST ATTACK: AN ANGLICAN CHURCH
The first attack happened on Sunday and it targeted Christ Church, an Anglican community, according to information gathered by the EAUK.
Pastor Ashknaz explained the situation to local newspaper Pakistan Today: “The church service was about to end when we heard 12 to 13 gunshots at the main door and within seconds a loud explosion shattered the windowpanes of the church and the nearby shops and houses. We immediately hurried everyone out of the church building from the back door.”
Reports suggested that the death count would have been much higher if it hadn’t been for the brave actions of volunteer security forces and a few police officers, who spotted the bombers and prevented them from entering the church.
Maryam Bibi, a member of Christ Church, told the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA): “As soon as the service finished I could hear guns firing and I asked my mother to stay seated at the front of the church. Soon after there was blast at the gate and pieces of flesh and blood sprayed across all of those in the church.
“Everywhere I looked there was broken window panes, blood and shoes scattered across the blast site.”
Many of injured victims were taken to Lahore General Hospital and discharged with minor injuries, however at least 35 were admitted in a critical condition.
SECOND ATTACK: A CATHOLIC CHURCH
Saint John's Catholic Church was the second to be attacked, and here also many lives were saved by the actions of a volunteer, Zahid Yousaf, aged 45.
He wrestled an explosive-laden terrorist to the ground and was then shot and killed. Pakistan Today reported that at least 1,200 Christians were in the church at the time of the attack, and that a second bomber was also prevented from entering the building by a young Christian.
A Pakistani Taliban (TTP) splinter group, Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, has claimed responsibility for both attacks.
PROTESTORS TAKE LAW INTO THEIR OWN HANDS
According to local pastors threats had been made against the churches of Yohanabad for the last 3 months, but police had not provided additional protection.
Anger spilt onto the streets following the atrocities, with reports that enraged groups attacked suspected terrorists. Two suspects were said to have been tortured and burnt to death on the Ferozepur Road by a furious crowd.
Father Gulzar of the attacked Saint John's Catholic Church told the BPCA that police have been brutally beating many protestors with excessive aggression and force, leading to riots in which four Christian men have been killed.
MEDIA AND MOSQUES ESCALATE TENSION
Sections of the media in Pakistan are also suspected of stoking tensions by falsely reporting that Christians are smashing vehicles. Christian and Muslim leaders are calling for calm, but there is concern that the situation could escalate, with protestors now clashing with police.
Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the BPCA, said: “The situation is getting extremely tense. Christians are being blamed incorrectly during a relatively peaceful process and we are concerned that the violence will escalate as local mosques are not being prevented from preaching hatred.”
“It is imperative that churches pray for the situation now. We need God's divine intervention if peace is to be restored any time soon.”
Al Jazeera reported that Ahsanullah Ahsan, a spokesman for the Taliban faction, had said: “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.”
FALSE ACCUSATIONS AGAINST CHRISTIANS
Pakistan is notorious for the impact of its blasphemy laws on Christian citizens who frequently face false accusations and the threat of attacks and imprisonment. Just a few months ago in another Christian area of Lahore, Joseph Colony, a Christian man was accused of blasphemy, reportedly leading to a rampage during which 3,000 Muslim protestors torched some 100 houses.
Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the BPCA explains: “This latest attack on an innocent Christian community is symptomatic of the hatred and vilification that Christians and other minorities face in Pakistan.”
“My heart aches for my brothers and sisters in Pakistan who are undergoing such extreme persecution. The global Church has to speak out for this voiceless community or their suffering is set to get worse.”
CSW: GOVERNMENT HAS NOT REACTED AFTER 2013 ATTACKS
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is calling for the perpetrators to be apprehended and held accountable, and for the Pakistani government to learn the lessons from the 2013 twin suicide attacks, which killed 180 people in All Saints Church in Peshawar.
CSW claims that the government has still not fulfilled its pledge to bring justice to the victims of the 2013 attacks, including delivering on its promise of compensation.
Christians make up less than 2% of Pakistan's population and many are among its poorest people.
You can read more about the happenings after the attacks on Sunday, the 15th of March, in this Morning Star report.