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Deadly blasts hit Pakistani churches

Arif Ali, AFP I Pakistani Christians gather in front of a church following suicide bombing attacks on churches in Lahore on March 15, 2015.

Bomb explosions outside two churches in the Pakistani city of Lahore killed at least 10 people and wounded more than 55 during Sunday services, according to rescue workers, with police saying a mob lynched two suspects.

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Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a Pakistani Taliban splinter group, claimed responsibility for the bomb attacks.

The explosions occurred minutes apart during morning services at two churches in the city's Youhanabad area, home to more than 100,000 Christians. The two neighbouring churches, one Catholic and one Protestant, are located about 500 metres apart.

After the blasts, enraged residents attacked two suspects, killing at least one of them, police said. Journalist Riaz Ahmed told Reuters news agency that he had seen two burned bodies at an intersection.

At least 10 people were killed and 55 wounded, said Khawaja Rafiq, the health adviser to the provincial chief minister.

Nabila Ghazanfar, a spokeswoman for the police, told news agency AFP at least one policeman was among the dead, adding that a state of emergency has been imposed in the city's hospitals as the death toll was expected to rise.

Accounts of heroism

Witnesses of the attack told Reuters that the death toll would have been higher if not for the courage of a guard.

“I was sitting at a shop near the church when a blast jolted the area. I rushed towards the spot and saw the security guard scuffle with a man who was trying to enter the church, after failing, he blew himself up,” said witness Amir Masih. “I saw his body parts flying through the air.”

The guard died as well, he said. It was not clear if the first blast was also triggered by a suicide bomber, Masih said.

Rising violence

Christians make up around two percent of Pakistan's roughly 180 million people and have been targeted in attacks and riots in recent years, often over allegations of profaning the Koran or Prophet Mohammed.

Lahore is the capital of Punjab, Pakistan’s wealthiest and most populous province and the political heartland of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The city is generally considered peaceful compared with many other areas of Pakistan, but violence has been on the rise after the government’s failed attempts to hold peace talks with the Taliban last year.

After the talks failed, the military launched an offensive in the remote northwestern region of North Waziristan along the Afghan border to push the Taliban from the last major region they controlled. Last month, the Afghan and Pakistani governments announced that a new round of talks with the Taliban will be held this year. 

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP and AFP)
 

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