QUETTA - A suicide bomb attack on a church claimed by the Islamic State group killed at least nine people and wounded over 50 during a service on Sunday in the heart of Quetta, just over a week before Christmas.

The attack was reported around 12noon when the service was under way in the church situated at Zarghoon Road. Three women were among the dead at the Methodist church in the provincial capital, Balochistan Home Secretary Akbar Harifal said.

Officials said police, deployed near the gate and on the roof, intercepted and shot dead one attacker outside the church before he could detonate his bomb. But the second managed to reach the church’s main door, where he blew himself up.

“Police were quick to react and stop the attackers from entering into the main hall,” police chief Moazzam Ansari Jah told AFP.

Each attacker was carrying 15 kilograms of explosive plus grenades, said civil defence official Aslam Tareen.

He added a detonator was recovered from the crime scene along with a hand grenade which, if exploded, could have caused heavy damage. The detonator and the hand grenade were later defused.

The CCTV footage showed how two attackers, wrapped up in their shawls and carrying rifles, struggled to enter the main gate which the security guards had earlier closed.

Islamic State claimed the attack, the group’s Amaq news agency said in an online statement, without providing any evidence for its claim.

Balochistan Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti said around 250 people normally attend the church on Sundays, but the congregation had swelled to around 400 because it was close to Christmas.

“God forbid, if the terrorists had succeeded in their plans more than 400 precious lives would have been at stake,” tweeted the home minister.

An AFP reporter at the scene saw shattered pews, shoes and broken musical instruments littered across the blood-smeared floor of the church.

Liaqat Masih, a member of the congregation, said he was heartbroken by the violence and feared for his life as the firefight erupted between one attacker and police, who were later reinforced by paramilitaries and regular troops.

“I am devastated to see many of our dear ones dead and wounded today here in front of me,” said Masih, 35.

Broken wooden benches, shards of glass and musical instruments were scattered around a Christmas tree inside the prayer hall that was splashed with blood stains.

Kal Alaxander, 52, was at the church with his wife and two children when the attack happened. “We were in services when we heard a big bang,” he told Reuters. “Then there was shooting. The prayer hall’s wooden door broke and fell on us ... We hid the women and children under desks.”

Maryam George, 20, cried at a hospital where her younger sister Alizeh was fighting for life with two broken legs and multiple other wounds.

Hours after the attack reports surfaced that a total of four attackers had been involved, with two escaping.

Senior police official Abdul Razzaq Cheema said investigators were analysing CCTV footage to check the claim and had launched a search for any further suspects.

 

 

The dead and the injured were shifted to Civil Hospital Quetta. However, an emergency was declared in all hospitals of the city.

According to a Civil Hospital spokesman Dr Wasim Baig, the dead were identified as Mehak, Akash, Fazal Masih, Jorge Masih, Sultan Masih, Sounf Nadaf and Madiyah Barkat.

Dr Wasim said over 50 injured were brought to Civil Hospital, 12 of them were later moved to Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in view of their critical condition.

IGP Ansari said the timely action by the security forces had averted a big tragedy as over 400 persons were busy in their prayers in the church at the time of attack.

The IGP said security had been beefed up across the province in the wake of the church attack.

Moazzam Jah said the venue - Bethel Memorial Methodist Church - was on high alert as Christian places of worship are often targeted by extremists over the Christmas season.

Last year’s Easter Day attack in a public park that killed more than 70 people in Lahore was claimed by a Taliban splinter group previously associated with Islamic State.

 

PM STRONGLY CONDEMNS ATTACK

 

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi strongly condemned the terrorist attack on a church in Quetta.

He said the whole nation was united in the fight against terrorism and had the determination to confront it.

The prime minister praised the security forces for their prompt response, PM office media wing said in a press release issued in Islamabad. He also expressed his sympathies with the victims’ families and wished for early recovery of the injured.

Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa also strongly condemned the terrorist attack on Quetta church. “The Quetta church attack targeting our brotherly Christian Pakistanis is an attempt to cloud Christmas celebrations and create religious cleavages,” he said according to a tweet by Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations Major General Asif Ghafoor.

The COAS commended the effective response by law enforcement agencies, adding, “We stay united and steadfast to respond against such heinous attempts.”

The United States also strongly condemned “the shocking and brutal attack on innocent worshippers,” US Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Minister for Interior Ahsan Iqbal strongly condemned the terrorist attack, terming the incident tragic and an act of cowardliness. He, in his statement of condemnation, said anti-state elements wanted to fan unrest and anarchy in the country to achieve their nefarious designs.

He said Islam was a religion of peace and harmony and it taught its followers to respect worship places of all religions, adding that protecting religious freedom of the minorities was duty of the whole nation.

Ahsan Iqbal renewed the pledge that war against terrorism would continue till complete elimination of the menace.

 

 

IS bombers kill nine at Quetta church