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9 dead in Quetta church attack
December 18, 2017
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ISLAMABAD: At least nine people were killed and over 50 injured in a suicide attack on the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church on Zarghoon Road in Quetta on Sunday.

Daesh claimed the attack, the group’s Amaq news agency said in an online statement, without providing any evidence for its claim.

The Inspector General of Police (IGP) Balochistan Moazzam Ansari and Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti confirmed the death toll in the suicide attack.

The death toll could have been much higher if the gunmen had forced their way into the sanctuary, Ansari said.

Another police official, Abdur Razaq Cheema, said two other attackers escaped. The dead bodies and those injured were shifted to Civil Hospital Quetta, which said it initially received four bodies and around 20 injured, including women and children. Three of the injured passed away while undergoing treatment for their injuries.

At least two suicide attackers struck the church while the Sunday service was in progress. There were 400 worshipers inside the church when it came under attack, Ansari said.

He said police assigned to the church’s security reacted in a timely manner and averted a much larger tragedy. Eyewitnesses and provincial lawmaker Aniqa Irfan, who had reached the church soon after the attack, corroborated the claim.

One of the attackers was reported to have detonated his suicide vest near the church’s main door after receiving critical injuries. Another was shot dead near the church’s entrance by security forces after an intense gunfight, Ansar said.

The church has been the target of a terrorist attack in the past. Security had been beefed up for the church after the last attack, which occurred a few years ago. The church is located in the city’s high-security zone.

Balochistan Home Minister Mir Sarfaraq Bugti said a suicide bomber was gunned down near the entrance and the other blew himself up in the courtyard of the Church after being shot and injured by police.

He also tweeted that the forces took 16 minutes to complete the operation. Ansari said the police successfully neutralised the attackers at the entrance of the church. Broken wooden benches, shards of glass and musical instruments were scattered around a Christmas tree inside the prayer hall that was splashed with blood stains.

Kal Alaxander, 52, was at the church with his wife and two children when the attack happened.

“We were in services when we heard a big bang,” he told Reuters. “Then there was shooting. The prayer hall’s wooden door broke and fell on us ... We hid the women and children under desks.”

Maryam George, 20, cried at a hospital where her younger sister Alizeh was fighting for life with two broken legs and multiple other wounds.

The church attack came a day after the third anniversary of a Taliban attack on an army-run school that killed 134 children, one of the single deadliest attacks in the country’s history.

Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, condemned the attack.

“Quetta church attack targeting our brotherly Christian Pakistanis is an attempt to cloud Christmas celebrations,” he said. “We stay united and steadfast to respond against such heinous attempts.”

Last year’s Easter Day attack in a public park that killed more than 70 people in the eastern city of Lahore was claimed by a Taliban splinter group previously associated with Daesh.

The United States strongly condemned “the shocking and brutal attack on innocent worshippers,” US Ambassador to Pakistan David Hale said in a statement.

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