LAHORE, Pakistan – The death toll is rising from a suicide bombing targeting Christians in a crowded park on Easter Sunday in Lahore, Pakistan, with at least 75 dead and more than 368 wounded, 138 of them critically, based on reports from Morning Star News and CNN.
Already claiming responsibility for the evening attack and professing to have targeted Christians is the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar terrorist group, a splinter faction of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that has professed allegiance to ISIS.
Screen capture from ABCnews.com
“We claim responsibility for the attack on Christians as they were celebrating Easter,” Jamaat-ul-Ahrar spokesman Ehsaah Ehsan said in a statement the group released shortly after the bombing.
“It was part of our annual martyrdom attacks we have started this year,” he said, threatening that the attacks “will continue throughout this year.”
Killed were at least 45 Christians and 25 Muslims, Morning Star News said, based on unofficial reports in the country where Christians comprise only 2 percent of an estimated 192.8 million people. Many of the victims were women and children, as the suicide bomber detonated at least eight kilograms of explosives near the children’s swings in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, Morning Star News said.
Saeed Elahi, chairman of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (Red Cross), told CNN in a live news report March 28 that the death toll had surpassed 75.
“The Red Crescent responded within five minutes, and the first ambulance reached there within four minutes,” he said, “but because the casualty was very high, we had to respond with doctors, paramedics and a large number of volunteers. So they provided them first aid and shifted them to the different hospitals.”
Businesses, schools and public parks are closed today in Pakistan and citizens are urged to donate blood for the injured. Dozens of women and children covered in blood were wheeled into hospitals, Morning Star News reported.
A family in the Christian neighborhood of Bihar Colony lost four family members in the explosion, a witness told Morning Star.
“What a brutal end to Easter celebrations,” Morning Star quoted Esther Murad. “Words cannot do justice to their pain.” A doctor at the Government Jinnah Hospital told Morning Star he feared the death toll would continue to rise, based on the number of critical injuries.
The attack was the deadliest in Pakistan since the December 2014 massacre of 134 school children at a military-run academy in Peshawar. Pakistan is ranked as fourth on the 2015 Global Terrorism Index. Pakistani Christians and other religious minorities have faced attacks from Islamist militants for more than a decade. Blasphemy there is punishable by death, and some Christians are imprisoned for their faith.
“The situation for Christians in Pakistan is getting increasingly dangerous,” a Christian rights activist who requested anonymity told Morning Star. “On one hand, the Taliban are saying that they will launch more attacks on Christians, while on the other hand the government is being pressured by Islamists who want to keep non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan subjugated through the blasphemy laws.”
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the bombing and assured justice to families of victims, but the activist who spoke to Morning Star accused the government of lacking commitment to fighting terrorism and religious extremism.
“This is a war between two mindsets, and it is now up to the state to decide how many more innocent lives will be lost to religious extremism, which is eating up Pakistani society like cancer,” the activist told Morning Star.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor.)