At least 15 people were killed and over 80 others injured today when Taliban suicide bombers attacked two packed churches during the Sunday mass in Pakistan’s biggest Christian colony here, sparking mob fury in which two suspected militants were burned to death.
In one of the worst attacks on the minority community in recent times, two attackers blew themselves up at the gates of Roman Catholic Church and Christ Church in Youhanabad area of Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, causing stampede as panicked worshippers ran to save their lives.
The attacks later triggered mob violence in which two suspected militants were lynched and then set ablaze, resulting in their deaths.
The usual Sunday mass was underway at the churches when the two suicide bombers reached there and tried to break-in.
"When the guards stopped them from entering the churches, they blew themselves up (at the gates)," Christian leader of the locality Aslam Pervaiz Sahotra told PTI. He said a large number of Christians were present inside the churches at the time of the twin attacks.
"Today the whole Christian community in Pakistan is devastated and is begging the government to provide it security," Sahotra said.The attacks were claimed by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’s splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. The same group had claimed the responsibility of a suicide attack on the Wagah border in September last year in which 60 people were killed.
"Fifteen people, including a boy and a girl and two policemen guarding the churches, have been killed and more than 80 wounded in the attack," Director General Health Zahid Pervaiz told reporters outside the Lahore General Hospital.
He said the death toll could rise as some injured were critically wounded.
Tahir Bhatti, an eyewitness said, "I was present in the service in the Catholic Church when I fell on the ground with the sound of a powerful blast. When I regained consciousness after a while, I rushed outside where I found several people lying in a pool of blood and limbs were scattered all around."
Punjab government spokesman Zaeem Qadri said, "Five policemen were deployed outside the two churches. Two of them lost their lives while the other three are in a critical condition. Their sacrifice has saved the lives of a number of people."
Soon after the incident, a violent mob lynched two suspected militants. After beating them severely, the mob tied them with a rope and set them on fire. Their charred remains were later found at the site.
Lahore police registered two separate cases — one against the attacks on the two churches and the other against the people involved in killing of the two ‘suspects’.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack and called it a cowardly act.