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Lahore, March 16, 2015 (PTI) At least 15 people, including two policemen, were killed and over 80 others injured today when two Taliban suicide bombers attacked two packed churches during the Sunday mass in Pakistan's biggest Christian colony here in one of the worst attacks on the minority community. The 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. 

"The enraged people took two suspects into custody whom they believed to be the accomplices of the suicide bombers. The suspects confessed that they were the accomplices of the suicide bombers and had come here to monitor the operation," Sarfraz Emneual, a local resident, said.

Police present there did not stop the mob from 'executing' the suspects, reports said. "We did not stop the enraged mob as there could have been a clash between the police and the mob," Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Lahore Haider Ashraf said.

"Both attacks were suicide blasts. Police personnel were deployed at the gate of the Churches. Two policemen lost their lives in the blasts," Ashraf said, adding that it is always difficult to stop a suicide bomber.

"It was the police and local security that deterred the suicide bombers from entering the churches otherwise the loss would have been colossal," the DIG said.

After the attack, Christians took to the streets and blocked many roads in the city. They also damaged public property. Situation in Youhanabad, which is the country's biggest Christian locality, was highly tense.

Around one million people mostly Christians live in the locality and the area houses over 150 churches. Angry Christians also did not allow two ministers, top police and district administration officials to visit the blast sites.
Christians in Faisalabad, Nankana Sahib, Sargodha and Multan, Karachi and Peshawar also took to the streets to protest the attack on churches.

Bishop of Lahore, Irfan Jamil, has appealed to Christians to stay calm and not let terrorists succeed in their design.

"Terrorists want to destroy the peace of this country. They are attacking mosques, Imambargahs and markets. Like minorities they are also attacking Muslims," he said. All missionary schools in Pakistan would remain closed to mourn those killed in the attacks.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also condemned the attack and called it a cowardly act. Meanwhile, the Lahore police have registered two separate cases -- one against the attack on the two churches and the other against the people involved in killing of the two 'suspects' who were lynched and burnt alive.

According to an initial police report, the terrorists wearing the suicide jacket had stuffed it with five kg of explosives each. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has announced Rs 500,000 for those killed in the attack and Rs 75,000 for the injured.

The attacks are the dealiest after the 2013 twin suicide bombings that were carried out at the All Saint's Church in Peshawar's Kohati Gate area, killing 80 and wounding over 100 others.

Dr Paul Bhatti, Chairman, All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), has condemned the brutal act of terrorism in the two churches and expressed his deep grief and sorrow over the loss of lives of innocent people.

He demanded the government to deal the culprits with an iron hand. He also announced a seven-day mourning period.


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