Pakistani Christians mourn 85 killed in suicide bombings at Peshawar church. Attacks on Christians in Muslim countries are rising.
September 24, 2013 – PAKISTAN – With its Mughalesque features, gleaming white dome and minaret-like towers, the All Saints’ church in Peshawar has been a symbol of interfaith harmony ever since it was built in 1883. As in a mosque, worshippers remove their shoes before entering the historic building, where biblical quotations are emblazoned on the walls in English, Hebrew and Persian scripts. Some of the congregation was bare-footed, as they filed out of the Anglican church on Sunday morning straight into the blast zone of one of two suicide bombers from a Taliban faction that has vowed to kill non-Muslims until the U.S. cancels its lethal drone strikes in the country. A day later and a blood-soaked jumble of shoes still lies in a pile on the right-hand side of the tall wooden doors where female worshippers usually congregate. According to a tally based on information from local officials, 85 people were killed and more than 100 injured, although one doctor who arrived at the scene moments after the blast believes that even more died but their bodies were recovered by relatives before they could be accounted for. Whatever the number, it was Pakistan’s worst attack on Christians, sparking impassioned, country-wide protests. Christians are a tiny and politically weak minority in Muslim-majority Pakistan who suffer from prejudice and sporadic bouts of mob violence. But Sunday was the first time that bombs had been used to such deadly effect on worshippers. It bore the hallmarks of similar attacks by sectarian terror groups whose attacks have caused huge casualties among Shia communities. And Sunday’s atrocity was claimed by the Jundullah branch of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a group that has orchestrated attacks against Shias. On Monday, the TTP’s main spokesman denied any involvement.
Tragedy and grief: In the streets and lanes of Peshawar’s old city, where All Saints’ is located a short distance from one of the historic gates of the city walls, all of the tightly-knit Christian community knows or is related to one of the dead. “He had made a promise to God that when he got better he would go to church,” said Joel Fakhar, the 20-year-old son of a man called Khalid who returned to the church after months of serious illness had kept him away. Their 52-year-old father had been looking forward to it, particularly the period after the service when the congregation spills out into the enclosed courtyard to chat. “He was looking forward to seeing his friends,” said Joel. On Monday the bodies had all been removed from the area where hundreds of worshippers milled around in the moments before the blasts, but dark, blood-soaked patches remained. The walls of the church and surrounding buildings were pockmarked by shrapnel, the windows blown in. “It’s not safe for Christians in this country,” said Mano Rumalshah, the bishop emeritus of Peshawar, who was standing in the courtyard, comforting sobbing parishioners who clasped his white robes. “Everyone is ignoring the growing danger to Christians in Muslim-majority countries. The European countries don’t give a damn about us.” Others echoed the bishop’s warning, saying that Christians would only be safe if they left Pakistan. But others vowed to remain and show they were not afraid. On Sunday the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, said during a visit to London that the government would be “unable to proceed further” with talks following the Peshawar attack. –Guardian