Pakistani Protesters Take to Streets After Church Bombing Death Toll Rises to 81
As the death toll from Sunday's suicide attack on an ancient Pakistani church climbed to 81, scores of protestors continued to demonstrate in various cities across the country, calling on the government to better protect its Christian minority.
81 people, including over 30 women and 7 children, were killed in the explosion that occurred Sunday morning outside All Saints Church — Peshawar's oldest Christian church, which dates back to the 1800s — as worshipers were leaving mass. The attack also injured at least 140 others.
Two different militant groups, splinter groups of the Pakistani Taliban, have claimed responsibility for the bombings, making it unclear who in fact organized the attack. Both Jandullah and the Junood ul-Hifsa are saying that the act was in retaliation for drone strikes carried out by the United States in Pakistan's northwestern region.
But the Pakistani Taliban itself has distanced itself from the attack.
"We refuse to take responsibility for the church blast. This is an attempt to sabotage peace talks between the TTP and the government," a spokesman said.
Demonstrators in the capital, Islamabad, reportedly burned tires, decrying the government's inability to protect Pakistan's Christian community. Protestors also blocked roads in Lahore and Karachi, and in Peshawar, angry protestors torched police cars and placed the bodies of the bomb victims on streets.
Many demonstrators also gathered outside the Peshawar's Lady Reading hospital, apparently breaking window-panes in anger at the limited number of beds and doctors available to the large number of injured explosion victims being brought in.
The attack has also endangered the future of a possible peace deal between the Pakistani government and the militants, with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif saying, "We had proposed the process of dialogue with good intentions and this enjoyed the backing of all the political parties," but adding that, now, "the government will be unable to proceed as it intended" — however, he didn't call for outright military action against the insurgents.
Sunday's attack is considered one of the worst to ever hit the country's Christian community, which constitutes only between 1 to 2 percent of the entire population.