Tensions simmered across Pakistan between the Muslim majority and Christians following the March 15 deadly gun-and-bomb attacks on two churches and the subsequent killing of two Muslims here.
At least 17 people, including two policemen, have succumbed to their injuries from the suicide attacks in Lahore’s Youhanabad area, which targeted Christ Church Youhanabad and St. John’s Catholic Church during Sunday Mass. Christians on March 16 filled roads to protest against the attacks, and one Christian youth was killed and 15 others were wounded in Lahore as violent protests spread from Youhanabad to other parts of the country.
Tensions between Christians and Muslims were such that police had to use tear gas and water cannons to disperse protestors. By evening, the Punjab Home Department had to deploy three companies of paramilitary force, Pakistan Rangers, in the area after a violent standoff between local Muslim and Christian youths from Youhanabad and adjacent localities.
The two Muslims killed were accused of being accomplices of the terrorists and had been handed over to police soon after the bombings. While some local people told Morning Star News that they “had heard that the two suspects were armed with pistols and were firing their weapons at the locals,” others said that the men were suicide bombers who intended to target a third church in the area.
Both men were later snatched from police custody, brutally tortured to death and their bodies torched in the middle of the Ferozepur Road. Police have since announced that one of the slain men, local glass-cutter Muhammad Naeem, had no connection with the bombings.
At least two young suicide attackers blew themselves up, one at each church building, as the services ended. Both attacks were foiled by Christian security volunteers, who confronted the terrorists with bravery and laid down their lives to protect the 2,000 people worshipping at the two churches.
The attacks, which took place almost five minutes apart, killed 16 people, including two policemen deployed for church security on Sunday, and on Monday a wounded Christian died at a hospital, raising the number of dead to 17.
Immediately claiming responsibility for the attacks was the Jamaatul Ahrar, a Taliban terrorist group that had parted ways with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) few months ago and pledged allegiance the Islamic State (IS, or Dae’sh) but had recently announced rejoining the TTP.
A statement from the group said that they would continue to target non-Muslims until their objectives are achieved.