Lahore: Two suicide bombers attacked two churches in Youhanabad, a predominantly Christian neighbourhood, while Lent Sunday services were being held. Fifteen people, including two policemen, died while 70, some critically injured, are undergoing treatment at a General Hospital. The attacks on Christ Church (Protestant) and Catholic Church, which are 500 metres apart, took place at 10.40am. There was a group of terrorists that attacked both the churches at the same time.

The terrorists first fired some rounds at an electricity transformer and then there was a blast. The second blast took place almost at the same time when a terrorist tried to enter the Catholic Church. There were around 3,000 worshippers in both churches at the time.

There were many acts of bravery at the time. Seventy-year-old Shamim Bhatti, a Christian who was security in charge of the Christ Church prevented one of the bombers from entering the building. “He stopped the bomber by holding him back, who blew himself on the spot. There was dust and smoke and one could see nothing. Shamim was critically injured and died at the hospital,” Asif Masih, a witness who lost his 12-year-old nephew at the time, said.

Brave acts

Other victims were the security volunteer couple who died outside the church. Ambreen Obaid, was serving in Lahore General Hospital as a staff nurse and her husband Obaid Sardar was a private nurse. Obaid tried to overpower the bomber, but he blew himself up. The couple has left behind a two-year-old daughter.

Others who lost their lives in the terror attacks were Mousa Tanveer, Abdul Majeed, Mohammad Sadiq, Mohammad Ramzan, Mukhtar and head constable Rashid Minhas.

What followed later was a chaotic situation. Angry Christians caught what eyewitnesses say were two terrorists. Their weapons were seized and they were beaten to death. Their bodies were burnt by the mob. About a million Christians live in Younhanabad and nearby areas. People took to the streets and there were protests across the city and in other cities as well. The mob on Ferozepur Road disrupted the metro bus service, broke the windows of many vehicles and damaged property. Three police officers were taken hostage in a shop as they were reportedly watching cricket match on TV at the time of incident.

Later in the evening the political and religious leadership of Christians came together at Lahore Press Club, where the protests had been continuing the whole day, to express their solidarity with the victims of attack. Those who were present and spoke on the occasion included Federal Minister Kamran Michael, Archbishop of Catholic Church Sebastian Shah, Bishop of Lahore (Emeritus) Dr Alexander John Malik, Bishop of Lahore Irfan Jamil, Bishop Azad Marshall, Rev Shahid Mehraj, and Rev Emanuel Khokhar.

Federal Minister Kamran Michael said that government would take steps to ensure that such incidents do not occur again. “I would take up the matter in the cabinet meeting. There should be a task force of police whose only duty must be to protect the places of worship of all religions. This force would not be used for any other purpose,” he maintained.

Bishop Jamil and Archbishop Shah announced a day of mourning, and that all Christian institutions would remain closed today while special services will be held on Monday (today). Funeral services would be held in late afternoon.

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan splinter group Jamaatul Ahrar has claimed responsibility for the attack and vowed to continue such attacks in future as well. Leaders of all the communities have condemned the attack and urged government to take stringent security measures for minorities and all places of worship. The government has announced compensation to families of deceased and injured — Rs500,000 (Dh29,107) for those deceased and Rs75,000 for those injured.