A SUICIDE bombing at a church in Peshawar on Sunday has been
described as the deadliest attack ever against Christians in
At least 80 people were killed in the attack on All Saints',
part of the United Church of Pakistan. Victims included 34 women
and seven children. More than 100 have been wounded.
Security sources have reported that two suicide bombers carried
out the attack, which took place as worshippers left the church
after the service to receive free food being distributed on the
lawn outside. The diocese of Peshawar said that children who
attended Sunday School and choir members were among the dead.
The Bishop of Peshawar, the Rt Revd Humphrey S. Peters, said
that the attack represented "the total failure of the new
Government of KPK" (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the province of which
Peshawar is the capital). It had "failed to provide security to the
minorities". He has announced a three-day period of mourning.
The Jundullah arm of the Taliban has claimed responsibility for
the attack. Ahmad Marwat, who identified himself as the group's
spokesman, told The Associated Press by telephone: "All non-Muslims
in Pakistan are our target, and they will remain our target as long
as America fails to stop drone strikes in our country."
The Pakistani Taliban condemned the attack. The Pakistani
government is currently pursuing a strategy of seeking peace talks
with the Taliban.
On Sunday, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, said:
"The terrorists have no religion, and targeting innocent people is
against the teachings of Islam and all religions."
The Pakistan Ulema Council, comprising Muslim clerics and
scholars, said that it was "standing with our Christian brothers in
On Monday, Titus Presler, the principal of Edwardes College, the
only college of the Church of Pakistan, situated less than two
miles from All Saints', reported on his blog that students and
alumni were among the dead. The number was yet to be determined.
His secretary had reported a "chaotic scene" at the Lady Reading
Hospital, where staff were struggling to cope with the wounded.
On Sunday, Wilson Chowdhry, who chairs the British Pakistani
Christian Association, said: "This suffering which has reached
genocidal proportions must come to an end. Serious international
intervention is required to prevent the total extermination of
Christians from Pakistan." He also called for a "rethink" of asylum
policy in the UK.
The Archbishop of Canterbury wrote on Monday to the Moderator of
the Church of Pakistan, the Bishop of Raiwind, the Rt Revd Samuel
Azariah: "My heart goes out to all those bereaved and injured
by this terrible attack. I pray for the peace of Pakistan and the
protection of Christ's people.
"With the people of Peshawar I join in calling for the Pakistan
government and all people of good will to ensure that communities
may go about their daily lives in safety, and that the perpetrators
are brought to justice."
On Sunday, the secretary-general of the UN, Ban Ki Moon, said
that he was "deeply concerned" about repeated acts of violence
against religious and ethnic minorities in Pakistan.
He urged authorities to continue taking steps to build tolerance
and strengthen relationships between diverse religious and ethnic
communities in the country.
Peshawar, situated in north-western Pakistan near the border
with Afghanistan, is vulnerable to acts of terror. In 2009, a
suicide-bomber killed himself and five others at a checkpoint near
Edwardes College. In March, Bishop Peter led 2000 Christians on a
march as part of a nationwide protest demanding improved security
for Christians, after a mob set alight two churches, and more than
150 homes, in a Christian district of Lahore.
All Saints', opened by Christian missionaries in 1883, is
situated inside the Kohati Gate of the old walled city of Peshawar.
It was designed to reflect the local Islamic architecture, with a
dome and minarets.
On Monday, the Bishop of Pontefract, the Rt Revd Tony Robinson,
who chairs the Archbishop of Canterbury's Pakistan Focus Group,
said: "I think this is the worst case that we have had of an attack
on a church, although for many years now this has been part of a
pattern of attacks on Christians, both at worship and in their
homes. We hope that the Pakistani government will try to protect
Christians in that country, who are trying to live peaceful lives
in that context."
He said that it was "very difficult for the government in
Pakistan to protect every church"; but the rise of terror groups
"may mean they need to be more proactive than they have been".
Pakistan is home to 5.3 million Christians in a population of
180 million. The 2013 annual report of the US Commission on
International Religious Freedom recommended that the US secretary
of state re-designate Pakistan as a "country of particular
concern". It warned: "Sectarian and religiously-motivated violence
is chronic . . . and the government has failed to protect members
of religious minority communities, as well as the majority faith.
Pakistan's repressive blasphemy laws and other religiously
discriminatory legislation . . . have fostered an atmosphere of
violent extremism and vigilantism."