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September 23, 2013

Death Toll in Pakistan Church Bombing Rises to 81

by VOA News

Officials in Pakistan say the death toll from a twin suicide bombing outside a historic Christian church has risen to 81 while Christians protest the attack at sites across the country.

Three new deaths were reported Monday, a day after the bombs exploded at the All Saints Church in the northwestern city of Peshawar. Hospital officials said many of the 120 people wounded in the attack were in critical condition.

The attack was one of the deadliest against Pakistan's Christian minority. Protesters blocked roads Monday and spoke out against the violence, calling for authorities to provide better protection.

Several hundred worshippers were leaving the church to receive food on a lawn outside when the two explosions went off. Among those killed were 34 women, seven children and two Muslim police officers who had been posted outside the church.

A wing of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying it would continue to target non-Muslims until the United States stopped drone attacks in the country's remote tribal region.

Pakistani intelligence officials said the latest drone strike came Sunday when missiles hit a pair of compounds in the North Waziristan tribal area, killing six suspected militants.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned what he called the "cruel" attack in a statement, saying it violated the tenets of Islam.

In Italy, Pope Francis led several thousand people in a prayer for the victims. Those who carried out the attack, he said, "took the wrong choice, one of hatred and war.''

The bombing coincides with a broader wave of attacks this year on religious minorities, including Shi'ite Muslims.

The attacks are mostly orchestrated by Sunni extremist groups, although some have also been claimed by the Pakistani Taliban.

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