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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Monday, January 22, 2018

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Christmas worshippers victimized in Pakistan ISIS attack

Bombers targeted the Christian church

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QUETTA, Pakistan - Pakistan’s restive southwestern city of Quetta in Balochistan province suffered yet another terrorist attack, this time at a Methodist church that is in the city’s high-security zone.

On Sunday, two suicide bombers targeted the Christian church packed with Christmas worshippers, killing at least nine and injuring more than 30 others.

The suicide bombing struck the Pakistan church when there were 400 people inside, attending the Sunday service and was immediately claimed by the Islamic State terrorist group.

The provincial Home Secretary Akbar Harifal said that the attack at the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church on Quetta's Zarghoon Road, that has come just over a week before Christmas left nine people dead and several of the injured were said to be in a serious condition.

The police said that injuries to worshippers were caused mainly by wooden splinters from the door and glass splinters of the church's windows.

The police added that they had intercepted and shot dead one attacker outside the church before he could detonate his bomb. 

However, the second suicide bomber managed to reach the church’s main door, where he blew himself up.

Provincial police chief Moazzam Jah said in a statement, “There were 400 worshippers inside the church when it came under attack. Many precious lives were saved due to the quick response of police present in the area. Had the attackers not been stopped, there could have been hundreds of people killed casualties. Police were quick to react and stop the attackers from entering into the main hall.”

According to civil defence official Aslam Tareen, each attacker was carrying 15 kilograms of explosive plus grenades.

Soon after, in a brief statement released on its Amaq news agency, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. 

In a publicly released statement, the Balochistan provincial home minister Sarfraz Bugti said around 250 people normally attend the church on Sundays, but the congregation had swelled to around 400 because it was close to Christmas.

The home minister said in a tweet, “God forbid, if the terrorists had succeeded in their plans more than 400 precious lives would have been at stake.”

According to local reports, shattered pews, shoes and broken musical instruments were littered across the blood-smeared floor of the church post the attack.

A member of the congregation and a witness of the attack was quoted as saying that firefight erupted between one attacker and police, who were later reinforced by paramilitaries and regular troops.

Reports stated post the attack that there might have been a total of four attackers involved in the operation but that two others escaped.

According to Senior police official Abdul Razzaq Cheema, investigators were analysing CCTV footage to check the claim and had launched a search for any further suspects.

An estimated 1.6 percent of Pakistan’s 200 million people are Christians and the community has for long faced discrimination and has been sidelined into lowly paid jobs and sometimes the target of trumped-up blasphemy charges.

The community, just like other religious minorities has been hit by Islamic militants over the years.

After a spate of recent attacks, several Christians took to the streets of the northwestern city of Peshawar, leading protests and calling on officials to protect religious minorities.

The previous biggest attacks on Christians in the country was in 2013, when 82 people were killed after suicide bombers targeted a church in the city.

In 2016, Lahore suffered one of Pakistan’s deadliest attacks during the Easter season, after a suicide bomb went off in a park that killed more than 70 people including many children.

The Jamaat ul Ahrar faction of the Pakistani Taliban claimed the attack.

For over a decade now, police and troops have been battling Islamist and nationalist insurgencies in mineral-rich Balochistan.

The province of Balochistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan, is the largest of the country’s four provinces.

However, the roughly seven million residents of the province have argued they do not get a fair share of its vast gas and mineral wealth.

In recent years, efforts to promote peace and development have reduced the violence considerably.

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