At least 78 people have died and more than 120 wounded in a suicide attack against a church in northwestern Pakistan. A number of women and children are among the victims of Sunday’s violence, being described as the deadliest ever assault on the country’s Christian minority.
Pakistani police say hundreds of worshipers were coming out of the church building in central Peshawar after the morning service, when two suicide bombers struck them one after the other.
The powerful explosions are said to have instantly caused most of the deaths. Eyewitnesses say people were screaming for help while human remains were strewn all over the church.
Survivors wailed and searched for their loved ones, while cursing the authorities for providing inadequate security to the church.
Rescue workers rushed to the scene to transport victims to the nearby Lady Reading Hospital where doctors say they were struggling to save lives of a number of those “critically” wounded.
This woman told reporters outside the church her cousins, brothers and nephews were all inside the church at time of the attack, but she could not locate any of them.
Another man standing nearby, holding a baby bottle, said his uncle and other loved ones were also missing.
He says Christians are a peaceful community and do not harm or abuse anyone, but even then they are being subjected to this cruelty.
The Pakistani Taliban, who are waging a bloody insurgency in Pakistan, have frequently targeted mosques and places of worship in addition to deadly attacks on security forces. The violence has killed thousands of Pakistanis across the nation in recent years.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the church bombing, saying “the terrorists have no religion and targeting innocent people is against the teachings of Islam and all religions."
Sharif’s government is seeking a controversial peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban militants to try to end extremist violence gripping the country.
That policy is under fire from those who believe engaging in peace talks with militants is a mistake.
An attack last week on a military convoy that also killed a top army general and Sunday’s church bombing are likely to fuel that criticism.
Farhatulla Babar is an opposition Senator.
“There have been several negotiations and peace pacts signed with the militants in the past, but in none of the agreements they kept those promises, all those pacts failed, they were not honored,” Babar said. "There is no likelihood that the negations this time around will succeed.”
Defense and security issues expert Ikram Sehgal believes attempts to engage militants in talks will only help these extremists to regroup.
“What they are interested in trying to impose their type of will on the populous of Pakistan and that is of violence, of mayhem of death of destruction, not of peace and harmony,” Sehgal said.
Taliban militants while welcoming the peace talks offer have demanded release of all their prisoners and withdrawal of troops from the northwestern tribal belt, a known militant sanctuary before engaging in any talks with the government.