At least 14 people are dead and 70 wounded after blasts targeted two churches in Lahore, Pakistan, during Sunday services.
The churches, one Catholic and the other Protestant, are located near each other in the predominantly Christian Youhanabad area of Lahore.
Geo TV, a privately owned Pakistani television station, reported that a police guard outside one of the churches prevented a suspect from entering. The suspect detonated the device, killing the guard. The other blast took place inside the second church, Geo TV reported. Haider Ashraf, deputy inspector general of police for Lahore, told The Associated Press that both devices were set off by suicide bombers, adding a second policeman was also killed in the blasts.
Multiple news sources also reported that irate protesters attacked people whom they suspected of being behind the explosions. Reuters said two suspects were burned to death. The AP gave that number as one. Protesters also set fire to cars, attacked buses and shops, and chased away police and politicians.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attacks. The AP quoted the faction’s spokesman, Ahsanullah Ahsan, as saying: “There will be more of such attacks.”
The attack is the latest in a series targeting Pakistan’s Christian minority.
Reuters provides some background: “Islamist militants in Pakistan have attacked Christians and other religious minorities often over the last decade or more. Many Christians, who make up less than two percent of Pakistan’s population of more than 180 million, accuse the government of doing little to protect them, saying politicians are quick to offer condolences after an attack but slow to act to improve security.”
The AP adds: Christians “are also discriminated against in the wider society where they can often only get menial jobs like garbage collection, and are frequently targets of blasphemy accusations.”
At the Vatican, Pope Francis condemned the attacks, telling a crowd at St. Peter’s that he felt “great pain.”
“These are Christian churches,” he said. “Christians are persecuted, our brothers spill their blood simply because they are Christians.”
Zahid Pervaiz, the regional director of general health, said the toll was at least 14 dead and 70 wounded. A rescue services spokesman said the number could increase.
Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, is widely regarded as Pakistan’s cultural capital. It is the political stronghold of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and has been relatively peaceful amid the recent surge of violence in Pakistan.