Two suicide bombers have attacked a church in the Pakistani city of Quetta, during a Christmas service attended by innocent men, women and children, killing eight people and wounding 42 others.
Local television showed ambulances and security patrols racing to the scene while women and children were being led out of the church’s main gate, in scenes of devastating panic.
Sarfaraz Bugti, home minister for the southwestern Baluchistan province, has confirmed the attack, saying hundreds of worshippers were attending services at the church ahead of Christmas.
Two attackers targeted a Methodist church in Quetta, but only one managed to detonate his vest. An ‘intense’ firefight followed, according to witnesses.
One assailant was killed by security forces at the entrance while another attacker made it inside the church, but was wounded and unable to make it inside the main building.
Baluchistan police chief Moazzam Ansari said without the quick response of security forces ‘the loss of lives could have been much higher’.
An ongoing search is under way for two suspected accomplices who escaped, according to Quetta police chief Abdur Razzaq Cheema.
A Quetta hospital spokesperson has since confirmed the death toll stands at eight, while many more worshippers were injured in the devastating scene.
Hospital officials further added two women were among the dead while another five women and two children are among the wounded.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office condemned the attack, tweeting that the nation’s ‘resolve against terrorism cannot be deterred by these cowardly acts.
Attack of terrorists on Zarghoon road church in Quetta is condemned. Pakistan’s resolve against terrorism cannot be deterred by these cowardly acts.
— Dr Mohammad Faisal (@ForeignOfficePk) December 17, 2017
Aqil Anjum, who was shot in his right arm, told The Associated Press he heard a blast in the middle of the service, followed by heavy gunfire. Worshippers flooded from the enclosed building, many of whom were covered in blood.
It was chaos. Bullets were hitting people inside the closed hall.
No one immediately claimed the attack but Pakistan’s small Christian minority have been targeted in the past.
Christians make up two per cent of Pakistan’s population, and face persecution from hardline Islamists, who want to see a strict interpretation of Islamic law take precedence in the legal system.
By the grace of Almighty, 02 Suicide Bombers stopped on entrance of Church in #Quetta. LEAs took 16 mins to complete the op. CCPO & DC #Quetta along with IG Police #Balochistan lead the operation from forefront.
— Sarfraz Bugti (@PakSarfrazbugti) December 17, 2017
However, attacks by terror groups in the nation are not limited to Christians.
This month, 18 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a Sufi shrine in southwestern Balochistan. At least 75 people were killed in a suicide attack last February at a packed shrine in the southern city of Sehwan in Sindh province.
The defence minister tweeted the nation’s commitment to protecting minorities and abolishing terrorism will not change.
Condemn the reprehensible attack of terrorists on Zarghoon Road Church in Quetta.
Pakistan’s resolve to protect minorities & to abolish terrorism shall not be deterred.
— Pak Minister Defence (@PakMnstrDefence) December 17, 2017
Since, an affilliate of the so-called Islamic State in Afghanistan and Pakistan said it was behind the attack.
In a text message to CNN, a commander of the affiliate, known as ISIS Khorasan, said that details on the attack and a formal claim of responsibility will be released by the Amaq news agency, the media wing of the terror group.
Our thoughts are with all those affected by this unforgivable attack on religious freedom and innocent lives.