A suicide bombing targeting the Christian minority in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar killed scores of people Sunday. The New York Times reported the death toll as at least 78. Reuters reported more than 100 wounded.
According to witnesses, two explosions went off outside a crowded church as Sunday services were ending.
The Peshawar All Saints Church had just concluded its services, with more than 600 worshipers leaving the site when the attack occurred. “I heard two explosions. People started to run,” one parishioner told Reuters, only giving her first name, Margrette. “Human remains were strewn all over the church.”
A Taliban-related extremist group has already claimed responsibility for the atrocity. Ahmed Marwat, the spokesman for the TTP Judullah, a militant Muslim group, said the church was targeted because “they are enemies of Islam, therefore we target them.” Marwat added that the attacks may not be the last of its kind. “We will continue our attacks on non-Muslims on Pakistani land.”
Among the deceased are children and two Muslim police officers who were patrolling outside the church. Witnesses described a bloody scene, citing various pieces of debris and shrapnel and human remains scattered around the ground.
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The senior police officer of Peshawar, Muhammad Ilyas, who is heading the investigation, said it is believed that there was just one suicide bomber, despite the two explosions that were heard. It is likely a lone suicide bomber used a hand grenade first before detonating his own explosives.
The attacks undermine Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to curb violence and bridge peace between Pakistani Taliban groups and religious minorities. The Taliban has openly rejected efforts of negotiation with the Pakistani government. Sharif issued a statement saying, “the terrorists have no religion, and targeting innocent people is against the teachings of Islam and all religions."