Photo Credit: Frontier News / Diocese of Peshawar
The Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, Bishop Humphrey Peters, is to visit the Christian community in Quetta after terrorists killed nine people attending a pre-Christmas service. The terror group Daesh has claimed responsibility for the attack on the Bethel Memorial Church in the Pakistan province of Balochistan. The full details of the attack remain confused, with conflicting accounts. It appears that four terrorists were involved in the attack. One detonated his suicide vest at the entrance to the church compound. Another opened fire at the entrance to the church before being shot by security officials. Two terrorists fled the scene and a security operation was underway to locate them. The security operation succeeded in preventing the terrorists from entering the church itself. In addition to the nine dead, around 60 people were injured.
Speaking to a local pastor attached to the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), one of the victims described the attack: “I heard loud gunfire and people screaming, some of them fell dead after being shot through the walls others were riven in blood, then a loud explosion occurred,” she said. “There was dust everywhere; people were rushing to help those injured. It was terrifying.
“It was so surreal we could not see who was shooting at us we could only hear it and see the pain on people’s faces and blood everywhere. I simply froze and prayed that I would get out alive and God chose to protect me.”
The Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, Bishop Humphrey Peters, said that “the law enforcement agencies acted timely and prevented a major loss of life and disaster, but it could have been avoided had more security personnel been allocated to the Churches.” He has urged the Christian community in Quetta to “keep united and strong in faith in this time of crisis.”
More than 400 Christians – many of them children – were attending the Nativity service. In a series of Tweets, Balochistan’s Interior Minister, Sarfraz Bugti, expressed solidarity with the victims of the attack. “God Forbid, if the terrorists had succeeded in their plans more than 400 precious lives would have been at stake,” he said, adding: “The provincial Home Ministry extends it full support to Christian brethren in this time of crisis.”
The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), an interdenominational organisation working for Christians who are being persecuted because of their faith in Pakistan, said that the church was on high alert before the attack, because “Christian places of worship are often targeted by Islamist extremists over Christmas.” While welcoming the “timely actions of the security guards” which prevented the loss of more lives, CLAAS said that there was “a need to heighten security around Christian towns and churches” in the run-up to Christmas.
Soldiers outside Bethel Memorial Church in Quetta, Balochistan, after it was attacked by terrorists.
Photo: Frontier News / Diocese of Peshawar
“My heart goes out to the victims and their families,” Nasir Saeed, the Director of CLAAS-UK, said. “It is especially sad as Christmas is only a week away and Christians, already in the Christmas spirit, have been attacked. Attacking worshipers, especially over the Christmas season, is an act of cowardice. It is condemnable and such hate and violence cannot help anyone to make a place in heaven.”
Recalling recent terror-attacks on churches at Youhanabad and Peshawar; and the Easter attack on the Gulshan Ravi park, he said: “It is the state’s responsibility to provide security and protection to its citizens and especially minorities who are constantly being targeted. The Government has failed to give them assurances of security and resolve their issues. The majority of Christians are disappointed and they don’t see their future in Pakistan. Many are fleeing the country they struggled for with the Quaid e Azam [Muhammad Ali Jinnah] the founder of Pakistan.”
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the BBCA, said: “While people in the west eat mince pies and turkey, Christians in Pakistan will be praying for an extra day of their earthly lives and for the protection of their children.”
Responding to the attack, he said: “Christians in Pakistan are buoyed by the condemnation of the Islamists by senior figures in the Government of Pakistan, but say it does little good. They desire a more robust investigative process to stop the terrorists before they attack; or stronger security presence around churches especially during celebrations like Christmas, where radicalised Muslims are frenzied by the more overt Christian display of their faith.”
He said that the BPCA had been pressing the case for increased security for churches and had made several submissions to the Pakistan High Commission in London; and had even suggested that Quetta would be a primary target. “Thus far our requests have been ignored,” he said. “Several churches have complained that no additional security measure have been put in place to protect them and the High Commission has failed to even acknowledge our communication by email or a written response.
“Arguably, the quick response of the security forces at the church reduced the impact of this attack, but that has done nothing to ease the anxiety that Christians are feeling. Christians clearly need more protection as two attacks on churches in two months is becoming too common an incident.”
In a chilling line, he said: “Christians across Pakistan are in sheer terror, but still they will pack their churches over Christmas. Martyrdom and Christianity in Pakistan go hand in hand.”