Christian mother and son wail of over her lost son.
By Shamim Masih
After receiving a text from Wilson Chowdhry at 5am GMT on Sunday, I immediately set out to investigate the twin bombing at Youhanabad.
I arrived there close to 1pm due to many roads being blocked and the poor weather, heavy rain. I could see immediately that there was considerable unrest. Everywhere I looked I could see protesters enraged by the attack, in particular a large group at the local Metro Station, and train journeys were being cancelled. The main Ferozpur road was the scene of a smaller protest despite the extremely heavy rain.
The incident occurred when two suicide bombers attacked two different churches in Youhanabad, killing 17 people instantly and injuring a further 82. The two churches were St John's Church a Catholic church and Christ Church, an Anglican Church of Pakistan. Both churches have an attendance in excess of 2000 parishioners.
The anger and frustration felt by Christians led to mob violence and two compatriots of the suicide bombers were beaten to death. Their bodies were subsequently burnt.
Maryam Bibi one of the church parishioners at Christ Church, said;
"As soon as the service finished I could hear firing and asked my mother to stay seated at the front of the church. Soon after there was blast at the gate and pieces of flesh and blood had sprayed across all of those in the church. Everywhere I looked there was broken window panes, blood, and quite morbidly, shoes were scattered across the blast site". Many of the injured victims where taken to Lahore General Hospital and were later discharged with minor injuries, but 35 have been admitted and remain in a critical condition.
A source has confirmed that police security patrols were watching the cricket match between Ireland and Pakistan during the church service instead of monitoring and protecting the church and the foyer.
Volunteer security officer Zahid Masih (goga) prevented the suicide bomber from gaining access the Christchurch premises, and during the struggle the bomber set off his incendiary device.
Akash Bashir was a volunteer security officer at St John's Roman Catholic Church. He pinned the arms of the bomber up against his ears, preventing him from setting off his incendiary device. A gunman then shot the suicide bomber and triggered the device, resulting in another explosion.
An angry mob beat to death two people whom they suspected of being associates of the attackers, one of whom was said to be the gunman who shot the suicide bomber's incendiary device.
Thousands of Christian protesters clashed with police attacking their cars with stones and sticks, while Christian women could be seen weeping and beating their heads and chests, wailing from the loss of so many of their friends and family.
Christians make up the largest minority in Pakistan, and have been subjected to an increase in targeted attacks in recent years, often over allegations of blasphemy. A rampage at the Christian community of St Josephs Colony, also in Lahore, on March 12th 2013, resulted in the loss of over 170 homes and 2 churches, and a devastating double suicide bombing in Peshawar in September 2013 killed over one hundred people and left a further 150 badly injured.
According to local pastors threats have been made against the churches of Yohanabad for three months. This was brought to the attention of local police authorities, but despite significant requests they failed to put any additional precautionary measures in place.
A senior doctor at Lahore General Hospital said:
"We do not segregate by religion, this is an attack on Pakistan, and we feel the pain of the victims and their friends and families. This pain is felt by everyone. We are making arrangements for the casualties and we will take care of them. We will follow procedure in this regard"
He added: "Police officials have stated that due to heavy security being deployed in Raiwind due to a Sunni Muslim gathering there, they were short of additional officers. Senior Superintendent Omar Cheema reached in Youhanabad said; "We need community cooperation to restore peace"
Father Francis Gulzar accused the Police of excuses and malpractice. He said; "No police officials were deployed during the service and now police have come to make sweet with our community." .
A young child, around 12 years old was among those killed. He had been awaiting his exam results and had come to church to pray in earnest for good results. He will now never see those results. At least 37 other wounded victims have been counted at Jinnah Hospital, and as I left there I heard the scream of an injured person which is still haunting me.
Sources have alleged that two or three Madrassas at Masjid Ibrahim and the Iqra institution in the Venus Housing scheme are creating hatred towards the Christian community of Yohanabad.
This morning the chief priest, Father Francis Gulzar spoke out against news reports that Christians had killed innocent people.
"The authorities should stop this [reporting falsely] and try to minimize the community angst instead of creating further misunderstandings."
He expressed his sorrow that Christians had taken this action, but confirmed the men attacked had been gunmen, viewed by numerous witnesses.
While we were on the road we saw many protesters and police were brutally beating many of them using excessive aggression and force.
I just want to make it clear that beleaguered minority members have on the whole remained peaceful. There seems to be, however, a media and authority intent to implicate Christians and to create a schism between local Christians and Muslims. I have heard hate speech being announced from local mosques and the situation here in Lahore is set to get worse.
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the BPCA, said:
"The situation is getting extremely tenuous. Christians are being blamed incorrectly during a relatively peaceful process and we are concerned that the violence will escalate as local mosques are not being prevented from preaching hatred. It is imperative that churches pray for the situation now. We need God's divine intervention if peace is to be restored any time soon."
We remember the brave volunteer security units outside churches that prevented this catastrophe from getting worse:
Akash Bashir (20)
Zahid Yousaf (45)
Qaisor Pervez, the nephew of Wilson's paternal uncle's wife, was originally pronounced dead by St John's Catholic Church, but thankfully he has survived and is recovering in Lahore General hospital. He held up the arms of the bomber at the Catholic Church, from behind his colleague Akash Bashir, and was saved by the proximity of their bodies. Please pray for his full recovery.
Alison Houghton, lead researcher for the BPCA, said "These completely unprovoked attacks on innocent and devout families attending Sunday worship on Mothers' Day was both cowardly and senseless. The killing of a child and the deaths and injuries of so many others highlights the pure hatred felt by those Muslims who simply refuse to tolerate Christians living in Pakistan."
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