A SUICIDE bombing at a park in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Easter Sunday has left more than 70 people dead.
At least 29 children were among those killed when an explosion, understood to have been the work of a single suicide bomber, hit the main gate at Gulshan-e-Iqbal amusement park. The park was more busy than usual, as Christians came to celebrate Easter with their families. More than 300 people were wounded.
Responsibility for the attack was claimed by Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a Pakistani Taliban faction.
"The target was Christians," a spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said. "We want to send this message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered Lahore."
The news agency Al Jazeera reported that at least 14 victims had been identified as Christians, and that most victims were Muslims.
A hunt for those behind the attack is underway. A military spokesman, General Asim Bajwa, wrote via Twitter on Monday: "Number of suspect terrorists and facilitators arrested and huge cache of arms and ammunition recovered."
Three days of mourning began on Monday.
Pope Francis condemned the "cowardly and senseless crime" in his address to pilgrims in St Peter's Square, on Monday.
“I appeal to the civil authorities and to all the social components of [Pakistan] to do everything possible to restore security and peace to the population and, in particular, to the most vulnerable religious minorities,” he said.
"We pray for the victims of Lahore to the crucified God who brings hope in despair, whose love is with the victims, who promises justice," the Archbishop of Canterbury, tweeted on Sunday.
Days before the Easter weekend the Christian charity Release urged supporters to pray for the protection of Pakistan's Christians and those who support them. One Pakistani Christian leader quoted by the charity had said that Christian communities were "on high alert" and "concerned for our Easter services".
"The anger of extremists is boiling over towards Christian communities across the country," he said. "The situation is tense and alarming for Christian and Muslim leaders who speak up for Christians."
Wilson Chowdhry, chair of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BCPA), said that the attack was "a clear targeting of Christians during their Easter celebrations. Families celebrating the resurrection of their Lord and Saviour have lost mothers and children as a consequence of this depraved violence. . . Unless western governments wake up to this problem, the death toll for Christians living there is set to rise exponentially."
BPCA believes that the park was targeted because the security at churches has become much tighter, since previous attacks.
It is just over a year since suicide bombings at two churches in Youhanabad, a Christian neighbourhood of Lahore, left at least 16 people dead (News, 20 March, 2015). In 2013, more than 80 people were killed in a bombing at All Saints', Peshawar (27 September, 2013).
In Islamabad on Sunday, police clashed with people protesting the execution last month of Mumtaz Qadri, (News, 4 March). Qadri was executed last month after being convicted of assassinating Salman Taseer, the former Governor of Punjab (News, 7 January 2011), who had defended a Christian woman accused of blasphemy.