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Pakistan: 78 Killed as Terror Strikes Church Goers in Peshawar; Taliban Linked Group Claims Responsibility, says Retaliation for U.S. Drone Strike

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By Sunny Peter | September 23, 2013 3:25 PM EST

Grim news from Pakistan, on Sunday, of terror attack on Christians at the All Saints Church in Kohati Gate, Peshawar raised more question about the freedom and safety of religious minorities in the country.  Two suicide bombers dressed as police personnel blew themselves up when people were coming out after the Sunday Mass. Media reports put the death toll at 78 and injured over 100. Pakistan's official television channel PTV reports the dead include 34 women and seven children and among the injured were 37 children, 44 women and 25 men. Meanwhile, at least one Urdu news publication put the death toll at 81 and injured at 150. BBC reports that militants linked to the Pakistan Taliban have said they carried out the bombing.

The BBC quoted witnesses saying they heard two blasts, the second more powerful than the first. It quoted officials who said, suicide vests were later found outside the church. Pakistan news media reports quoted security officials confirming that both blasts were suicide bombings - one at the gate and the second inside the church courtyard.

Pakistan's President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the blast and expressed solidarity with the community. Reports say, Pakistan Peoples Party, Awami National Party and Muthidda Qaumi Movement denounced the killing and announced a three-day mourning to condemn the "heinous act of terrorism."

However, even as politicians line up to condemn the attack, Christian minorities in Pakistan - an Islamic country that ends up treating its religious minorities as second class citizens, feel it is too little, too late.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty quoted a local community member, Martin Javed Miachal saying that the government has failed to protect Christians. 

"We Christians are hopeless and helpless," he told RFE/RL.

"Our future is very dark. We have been treated like second-class citizens. We have been discriminated against for a long time. Now our churches and our people are not safe."

Following the blast, relatives for the victims gathered at the scene to protest against the government's failure to protect Christian minorities. Angry protestors blocked the main road for two hours, hurled stones at cars and burnt tyres.

Reports from Pakistan news agencies said, angry Christians took to streets in various cities of Pakistan following the deadly suicide blast. Christians reportedly demonstrated in Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Sialkot, Multan and other parts of the country against the killing.

Christian Missionary institutions in the country have announced three days mourning, following the attack. The Council for International Religion which deals with the Christian institutions in Pakistan has suspended study in missionary schools and colleges in Peshawar for three days.

Meanwhile, another PTV report said that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who left Islamabad to attend the U.N. General Assembly session in New York, has directed the country's Interior Minister Ch. Nisar Ali Khan to rush to Peshawar to look into incident.

International human rights organizations list Pakistan as among the most dangerous countries in the world for minorities. Christians in Pakistan, who comprise approximately 3 per cent of the country's population, often face a two-pronged risk to life and property. They become victims of personal vendetta and intimidation by local Islamic fundamentalists within the community and terror attacks by extremist Islamic groups.

Pakistan's archaic and draconian blasphemy law is used by Islamic fundamentalists in the local communities as a means of intimidation and to settle personal scores. In March 2013, Muslims attacked a Christian neighbourhood in Lahore, where more than 100 houses were burned after a Christian was alleged to have made blasphemous remarks.

More recently, in a case that drew international condemnation, on Aug 20, Imam Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti who was arrested for falsely implicating Rimsha Masih, a 14-year old mentally-challenged Christian girl of burning pages of the Quran in Aug 2012, was acquitted by a trial court on Saturday for lack of evidence.

On the other hand, in an Islamic country torn by strife, the Christian faith makes them heretics and symbolic of the 'hated' West. Often large scale attacks on Christian minorities have happened in retaliation to U.S. and NATO operations against Islamic terror groups worldwide.

The Sunday attack is a continuation of this saga. Accordingly to reports by BBC, a group liked to the Pakistan Taliban called, Jandullah, claimed responsibility for the attack and said it was in retaliation of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal northwest.

However, undeterred by attacks on Christian minorities U.S. drone strikes continue in the tribal region of the country. Pakistan news channel PTV reports that seven people were killed in a latest U.S. drone attack in Push Ziarat area of Shawal Tehsil in South Waziristan on Sunday.

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