PESHAWAR: A pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up outside a 130-year-old Anglican church in Pakistan after Sunday Mass, killing at least 78 people in the deadliest attack on Christians in the predominantly Muslim country.
Islamist violence has been on the rise in Pakistan in past months, undermining Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to tame the insurgency by launching peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.
Within hours of the attack, Sharif toughened his stance considerably but fell short of calling for outright military action against insurgents holed up in tribal areas on the Afghan border – an option supported by Pakistan’s all-powerful army.
“Such incidents are not conducive of peace talks,” Sharif said in televised remarks. “Unfortunately, because of this, the government is unable to move forward on what it had envisaged, on what it had wished for.”
Explosions struck the historic white-stone All Saints Church in the city of Peshawar, near the frontier tribal areas where Islamist militants have their strongholds, as hundreds of parishioners, many of them women and children, streamed out of the building.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said the death toll of 78 included 34 women and seven children, in remarks televised live from Peshawar. More than 100 people were wounded.
The Taliban-linked militant group TTP Jundulla claimed responsibility within hours of the attack.
“They are the enemies of Islam, therefore we target them,” said the group’s spokesman, Ahmed Marwat. “We will continue our attacks on non-Muslims on Pakistani land.”