Yesterday’s attack on Bethel Memorial Methodist Church cost the lives of nine people attending the liturgical service. The Islamic State claims the attack. Christian and Muslim activists condemn violence and religious extremism.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) - The Sindh government has decided to tighten security for all places of worship in the Pakistani province, after yesterday's attack on the Methodist church in Quetta, in Balochistan, where nine faithful died and 44 they were injured.
The decision comes within hours of the suicide bombing at Bethel Memorial Methodist Church yesterday, when two bombers, one of them aged between 16 and 20, detonated their explosives at the place of Christian worship. There were about 400 faithful gathered in prayer for Sunday's liturgical service. The violent attack reignites concerns for the Christian community, especially ahead of Christmas celebrations.
The attack was claimed by the Islamic State (IS), although so far there is no clear evidence of their involvement. Surveillance videos show that the two men tried to force entry to the compound, but were stopped by the guard. After killing the soldier, they broke into the church: one of them managed to blow himself up at the door, the second was shot dead by other officers who had rushed to the scene.
Sindh Interior Minister, Sohail Anwar Siyal, said that the strengthening of security measures is used to thwart threats to non-Muslim religious places. "Those who are adamant to destroy peace in the country are ulcerous and the entire nation is united against their nefarious designs". In all, the administration plans to deploy 2310 policemen to defend 1253 religious sites of minorities, including 703 Hindu temples, 523 churches, 21 Ahmadi mosques and six gurdwara of the Sikh community.
Speaking to AsiaNews, human rights activists, leaders of the Pakistani Catholic Church and Muslims strongly condemn yet another attempt against the Christian minority. Naveed Walter, president of Human Rights Focus Pakistan, says they are "grieving over atrocious religious terrorism during the Christmas season. But the faithful are not at all frightened and will continue their preparations and celebrations for the upcoming feast [...] All Pakistanis must condemn the despicable attack, regardless of their religious affiliation, caste, province and political affiliation. Otherwise, silence and justifications open the way for even more brutal violence. Our support and voice goes to the families of the innocent and vulnerable victims and their families ".
Hamza Arshad, a Muslim teacher and journalist, declares: "Three years ago the gruesome attack on Army Public School Peshawar [which caused about 150 deaths the majority of children, ed] was more than enough to make us realize that religious extremism is the prime cause of terrorism. But we continue to link terrorism to foreign hands, preferably to India and Afghanistan, and thereby America. Right wing media and political elite find it easy to accuse others than to take on the real culprits. Though army action has decreased acts of terrorism by and large but religious extremism is not going anywhere. Events taking place for the last couple of months show that it is on the rise. Various shades of religious extremists are being mainstreamed. Pakistan will have to pay a heavy price of this complacency”.
The National Commission of Justice and Peace of the Pakistani Episcopal Conference joins the chorus of complaints. In a joint statement, Msgr. Joseph Arshad, president, Cecil S. Chaudhry, executive secretary, and Fr. Emmanuel Yousaf, National Director, condemned "the cowardly and inhuman attack against the church and the innocent faithful". They also thank the security forces, who with "their prompt response have prevented the toll from being even more serious" and underline "the need to strengthen protection measures for all citizens, especially during this Christmas period". The Commission reiterates that "the uncertainty of life is inevitable, but the loss of precious lives in this premature way is increasing in Pakistan. Let us pray to our Lord Jesus Christ that as a nation He may grant us strength, wisdom, tolerance and peace".