ROME— A suicide blast in eastern Pakistan city of Lahore killed at least 65 people and injured over 300 as they were celebrating Easter on Sunday in a local park. A splinter group of the Taliban claimed responsibility, saying they’d intentionally targeted Christians.
Pope Francis condemned the attack on Monday, calling it a “cowardly and senseless crime.”
“I appeal to the civil authorities and to all the social components of that nation, they do everything possible to restore security and tranquility to the population and, in particular, the most vulnerable religious minorities,” the pontiff said as he led the Regina Coeli prayer at St. Peter’s Square.
The Vatican had strongly condemned the attacks on Sunday, through a statement from spokesman Father Federico Lombardi: “Once again, cowardly murderous hatred rages on the most defenseless,” he said.
The statement also said that Pope Francis had been informed of the tragedy and that he was praying for the victims, while expressing closeness to the “immense” pain of the wounded, the affected families, and “to the members of Christians minorities once again struck by fanatical violence”.
“May the crucified and risen Lord continue to give us the courage and hope needed to build paths of compassion, and solidarity, and with those who suffer, paths of dialogue, justice, reconciliation and peace,” Lombardi wrote, quoting Francis’ Easter message.
According to the Associated Press, a breakaway faction of the Taliban known as Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, with ties to the Middle Eastern terror group ISIS, claimed responsibility for the attack. The spokesman for the splinter group also said that the park, called Gulshan-e-Iqbal, was deliberately chosen to target Christians, and that further attacks were imminent.
Pervez Musharraf, former president of Pakistan, used Facebook to express his outrage over the multiple suicide attacks targeting the Christian community: “Religious intolerance, sectarian violence and blatant terrorism is destroying the very core of our social fabric,” he wrote.
The politician, a Muslim, said that in a pluralistic Islamic society “which is what we must aspire and strive to become,” there’s no place for such violence nor “appeasement of extremist groups who are trying to make our nation hostage to their obscurantist ideology.”
Pakistani military spokesman General Asim Bajwa said on a series of posts in Twitter that intelligence agencies will “commence operatives as soon as possible to find linkages and perpetrators of Lahore suicide attack.”
“We must bring the killers of our innocent brothers, sisters and children to justice and we’ll never allow these savage inhumans to over-run our life and liberty,” Bajwa said.
Violence against the Christian minority has been a constant in Pakistan for many years. There’s an estimated 3 million Christians between Catholics and Protestants, but they represent less than 2 percent of the total population.
Only a year ago, on a Sunday morning, while Catholics and Protestants were celebrating their respective services in the neighborhood of Youhanabad, two suicide bombers — also members of a splinter Taliban group — orchestrated a terrorist attack in Lahore that killed 17 and wounded 78.
Had it not been for a volunteer security guard who stopped one of the terrorists from going into the Catholic church, the result could have been even more deadly.
In 1998, Bishop John Joseph committed suicide in protest against the cruel treatment of Christians in Pakistan, religious intolerance, and blasphemy legislation that has put many non-Muslims on death row.
In 2013, twin suicide attacks were carried out at All Saints Church in Peshawar’s Kohati Gate area, killing 80 and wounding hundreds.