PESHAWAR: At least 81 persons were killed and 146 sustained injuries when two suicide bombers targeted worshippers at the 130-year old All Saints’ Church in the inner city Kohati Gate locality here on Sunday.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government announced three days of mourning following the most deadly attack on the religious minorities so far in the history of the country. The attack was the second largest in Peshawar in terms of casualties. The largest was an explosion in Meena Bazaar on October 28, 2009, in which 137 persons lost their lives and some 200 were wounded.
All the churches as well as the missionary schools in the country will remain closed in mourning for three days. A number of political parties also announced three-day mourning over the tragedy.
Sources said around 400 members of the Christian community were coming out of the church after attending the Sunday services when two suicide bombers, who had sneaked into the crowd of worshippers, blew themselves up in quick succession at around 11:50am.
Eyewitnesses said there were horrible scenes after the two explosions as men, women and children were lying in pools of blood and crying for help. Many others were breathing their last in the laps of their loved ones.
The maimed bodies of children were seen lying close to their siblings and parents all over the courtyard of the church building. The local traders, who couldn’t control their tears, placed their chaddars on the bodies of the slain worshippers. People were seen running around in panic while searching for their missing children, spouses and parents.
Shopkeepers in the nearby markets closed their shops immediately after the blast and transported the wounded and the bodies in their vehicles to the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), where a state of emergency was declared. They and other philanthropists donated coffin boxes for the dead. Moving scenes were witnessed at the site of the blast as well as the the LRH where the wounded women and children were brought. Many among the injured were dying, others were in severe pain and their clothes were soaked in blood.
Many women and children fell unconscious after seeing the blood-stained bodies of their loved ones. They were crying inconsolably as their relatives tried to console them.“We have counted over 60 bodies so far. The number of wounded is over 120,” the chief executive of the LRH Prof Dr Arshad Javed told reporters earlier in the day. The death toll kept rising until it reached 78. “The death toll has reached 78, including 34 women and seven children,” said an official. The FIR of the case was lodged in the Khan Raziq Police Station. the Federal and KP governments announced three-day mourning over the attack.
Entire families were devastated with several dead and injured in the attacks. They had come together to pray at the church and were destined to die at the same time.Among those killed in the incident were a school headmaster, Naeem Nazir, his wife Mona Naeem, daughters Merab Naeem and Mary Naeem, his brother Nasir Nazir and a niece Angel. Zarin Sabir, a class 10 student, along with her cousin Samreen, also died in the attack.
Amir and his wife Razia, his children Shamoona and Jessy, and a niece Jia were also among those killed. Amir’s nephew Roshan was missing while Amir’s mother was wounded.A 12-year old boy Ihsan and his sister Neha died while their mother was wounded. Muneeza, a student of class five, was killed and her mother was injured. Others killed in the blast were identified as Riaz Washington, Joseph, Wajid and Khalid Fakhar.
A school headmaster, Naveed Shirazi, and his eight-year old daughter Sania were also among those killed while his two sons were critically wounded.The principal of the Government High School No 4, William Ghulam, and his son Nohal, who was an MBBS final year student, were also killed. William’s wife was wounded and hospitalised, perhaps unaware that her husband and son were dead.
Initially, it was reported that one bomber had targeted the church, built in 1883, and frequented by the poor members of the Christian community living in the congested inner city. However, later the investigators confirmed that two suicide bombers had attacked the church. Eyewitnesses were quoted as saying that one of the bombers wore trousers and a shirt, obviously to easily gain access to the church.
The experts of the bomb disposal unit (BDU) told reporters that around six kilograms of explosives were being carried by each of the two bombers, whose remains were recovered and sent to the laboratory.
Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Mohammad Ali Babakhel, who rushed back from his long leave, told reporters that the first bomber blew himself up close to the worshippers leaving the church when the police constable on duty, Zahid Hussain, tried to stop him. He said the other bomber blew up a few moments later to target the panicked worshippers.
The CCPO claimed that proper security was provided for the Sunday services at the church and the area had been secured and properly swept with the help of gadgets. “The cops were also allowing the worshippers to enter in small groups as part of security measures when the bomber blew himself up,” said Mohammad Ali Babakhel.
Some eyewitnesses claimed that both bombers had managed to enter the church premises due to inadequate security arrangements.Commissioner Peshawar Sahibzada Mohammad Anis said security arrangements would be reviewed after the attack on the church. The police said the security of the places of worship of the Christians and other religious minorities was tightened following the blast.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman Imran Khan reportedly ended a meeting of the PTI central executive committee before the scheduled time and rushed to Peshawar to express his sympathies to the victims of the blast and their families. He visited the LRH and met the families of those killed and wounded in the twin blasts.
The PTI chief assured that security would be upgraded in and around the worship places and residential colonies of the Christian community. “Whenever we begin planning talks with the militants, such attacks start taking place,” said Imran Khan. He said every measure will be taken for restoring peace in the province and the country.
Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, who was also attending the party’s central executive committee meeting in Islamabad, also rushed back to the provincial capital after hearing about the blast. He announced that a special compensation package will be given to the victims of the blast. Later, it was announced that the families of the dead would be given Rs500,000 each.
The newly elected Member of the National Assembly from Peshawar, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, Senior Minister Sikander Sherpao, Information Minister Shah Farman, former minister and ANP leader Mian Iftikhar Hussain and others visited the scene of the blast as well as the LRH to console the victims of the incident.
“It was a tragic incident. I am supervising the facilities being provided to the victims at the LRH,” provincial Health Minister Shaukat Yousafzai said. He too had rushed back from Islamabad and had to face an angry crowd of mourners staging a protest at the hospital.
The minister defended the role of doctors and said they along with the paramedics were called from their homes to attend to the injured. He added that the doctors and other employees were taking their weekly Sunday off when the blast occurred. He said the LRH was able to cope with the situation when 78 bodies and over a hundred wounded were brought to the hospital.
The relatives of the victims staged a protest at the hospital and also on the Grand Trunk Road and caused traffic jams. They were protesting against the poor security arrangements at their places of worship and inadequate arrangements at the hospital’s emergency department to cope with the tragedy.
The ANP and other political parties also announced three days of mourning.A large number of members of the Christian community as well as hundreds of Muslims rushed to the hospital to donate blood for the victims.
Our Kohat correspondent adds: Jundul Hafsa, an affiliate organisation of the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has claimed responsibility for the attack on the church in Peshawar.Talking to The News from an undisclosed location, its spokesman Ahmedullah said that they had sent the suicide bombers to the church to avenge the killing of innocent people in US drone attacks.He said that they would continue killing ‘foreigners’ in Pakistan in retaliation to the US drone strikes.