By BosNewsLife Special Correspondent Xavier P. William reporting from Peshawar, Pakistan
PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Christians gathered for protests, prayers and memorial services across Pakistan to remember the victims of last week’s suicide attack at a major church in the violence plagued city of Peshawar, where another powerful bomb ripped through a busy marketplace Sunday, September 29, killing at least 38 people.
Church officials and other authorities said as many as 175 people may have died in the twin bombings that devastated the historic All Saints Church Sunday, September 22, though the official death toll still stands at at least 85.
In Pakistan, funerals are generally held within a day after someone dies, adding to confusion in a troubled nation where accurate figures are often hard to receive.
Still at least 18 young children and a dozen teenage girls remain missing, according to the All Saints Church in Peshawar, the regional capital of northwestern Pakistan. Two Taliban-linked groups, Jandullah and the Junood ul-Hifsa, have claimed responsibility for what was the deadliest attack against churches in years, saying Christians are “enemies of Islam” and warning of more “attacks on non-Muslims on Pakistani land.”
The church attack came just two days after a bombing on a crowded bus killed 21 government employees as they traveled home for the weekend. Church members had little time Sunday, September 29, to remember their loved ones in peace as two blasts rocked nearby Qissa Khwani bazaar in the old quarter of the city.
For Zubair Yousaf, one of the people present in the Church, they were another reminder of the dangers faced at a time when Islamic militants have stepped up attacks in the area. “We still cant believe that we lost our loved ones last week,” he said.
“As we were in the Church praying, two loud explosions shook the building and immediately I recalled the scene from last Sunday. We rushed out to see what had happened. It was so sudden, people were shouting, we rushed to help the people in the market.”
Seven members of the same family lost their lives in the bazaar blasts. The rescue workers rushed to a scene resembling a war zone.
The Taliban denied responsibility for what was the 13th time Qissa Khwani bazaar had been attacked since 2009, though security forces have been on high alert around churches across Pakistan.
The market bombings also revived painful memories for George Masih, who came to the blood-stained, All Saints Church to pray Sunday, September 29, for relatives who were injured in the recent church blasts.
“My father and mother are critical injured in the hospital, my younger brother who is eight-years-old, is being treated at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad,” George Masih, who himself narrowly survived the attack. “The boy had to undergo a surgery. We are still in a state of shock,” he told BosNewsLife.
Peshawar has been targeted three times in one week, raising questions regarding government plans to talk with the militant Taliban group.
Pakistan`s Interior Minister, Nisar Hussain said, “The Talibans have disowned the Peshawar attacks, however there are some elements who intend to destabilize the region. Those elements intend to derail the talks between India and Pakistan as both the prime ministers at the United Nations meeting in New York.”
Various political parties are pressurizing the government of Khyber Pukhtun Khawa province to resign over the perceived lack of security in the region.
Christian advocacy and aid groups Life for All Pakistan and Masihi Foundation Pakistan said they understand the worries of local residents. “We stand by the grieving families. Targeting the innocent and vulnerable is the most cowardly act,” the groups said.
“Everything changed for these families, they will never be the same. Pakistan is going through a crucial time. We stand together as a nation and condemn these acts of terrorism,” the activists stressed.
“All extremist elements must be condemned.”
Christians comprise less than three percent of the heavily Muslim population in the South Asian nation of 193 million, according to several estimates.
Church groups have warned of more attacks targeting Christians, unless security is stepped up.
Thousands of Pakistanis have died in a decade-long insurgency involving Islamic militants fighting for more influence and government forces. (With editing by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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