Sixty-nine people are dead, including at least 29 children, and 341 injured in the deadly attack
By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (March 28, 2016) — The Easter Sunday suicide blast which was aimed at Pakistani Christians enjoying a “Resurrection Day” celebration in a park in the eastern Pakistan city of Lahore, and killed at least 69 people, and injured a further 341, was mainly aimed at the children of local Christians, says a Christian campaigner.
Wilson Chowdhry, founder and chairman of the London-based British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), said, “The bomb, that was packed full of ball bearings, was set of near the children’s area with the intent to pick off the most vulnerable of visitors to the park.”
Media reports say that at least 29 children, who had been enjoying an Easter Sunday outing, were among those killed by Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a Taliban splinter group. Up until the time that tragedy stuck, parents had been taking their children on rides or pushing them on swings.
Laughter turns to screams
But then the kids’ laughter and squeals of enjoyment, turned to screams when the suicide bomber detonated his bomb and bodies were strewn everywhere.
Chowdhry went on to explain, “In Pakistan, Christians have a long running tradition of celebrating as a family at local park fun fairs after their morning devotions. This practice has never been a secret and, after the Lahore Twin Church bomb attack took a low death toll due to the tight voluntary security workforces at both churches, a pernicious Taliban splinter group targeted Christian women and children at a popular Easter venue at Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park.
“The BPCA has initiated an immediate disaster recovery and calls on our members to help as much as they can as the given number of fatalities and casualties are increasing by the hour. Your donations will be used to support victims with funeral costs, medical fees, rehabilitation of those injured, trauma counselling and restoration of families who will have lost a main bread-winner or will be laid of work for some time.”
Details of how to donate can be found by clicking on: http://www.britishpakistanichristians.org/CampaignProcess.aspx?A=Link&VID=8996625&KID=33842&LID=124128.
It was Pakistan’s deadliest attack since the December 2014 massacre of 134 school children at a military-run academy in the city of Peshawar that prompted a government crackdown on Islamist militancy.
Casualties were quickly rushed to local hospitals, including Lahore General Hospital, which does not have a special burns unit, and distraught family members gathered outside the local hospitals, while the Pakistan government announced a three-day mourning period.
CNN reports that the attack came “at a difficult time for Pakistan’s Christians, some of whom were in the city’s Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park to celebrate the holiday Sunday evening, only to see their Easter Sunday fragment into terror and chaos.
“The religious group makes up only 2% of the population, and tensions are high between them and a hardline Muslim core which wants to see a strict interpretation of Islamic law take precedence in Pakistan’s legal system,” added the CNN report.
Pakistan is a majority-Muslim state but has a Christian population of more than two million, which is constantly being targeted by the Muslim population, often with made-up blasphemy charges, but also with terrible violence, like on this occasion.
Pope Francis condemned the attack as “hideous” and demanded that Pakistani authorities “protect religious minorities.”
Security and government officials told the Reuters news agency that the decision had been made to launch a full-scale operation involving the paramilitary Rangers, who would have powers to conduct raids and interrogate suspects in the same way as they have been doing in the southern city of Karachi for more than two years.
The move, which has not yet been formally announced, represents the civilian government once again granting special powers to the military to fight Islamist militants.
“The technicalities are yet to be worked out. There are some legal issues also with bringing in Rangers, but the military and government are on the same page,” said one senior security official, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to share details of the plan.
One witness, Danish, was at the amusement park with his two sisters. He recalled the moment that the explosion ripped apart the park, killing one of his sisters and seriously injuring the other.
“It was so crowded that there was even no way of entering it. We went to a canteen to have something to eat, when there was suddenly a big blast. Everyone panicked, running to all directions. Many of them were blocked at the gate of the park. Dead bodies can be found everywhere,” he told reporters.
“My sister got wounded in the neck. The object hit her looks like a piece of hard iron, and it burnt her in the neck. She was also wounded in the chest.”
Ehsanullah Ehsan, a spokesman for the splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban known as Jamat-ul-Ahrar vowed such attacks would continue. Parks in the city remained closed into Monday, for security reasons, according the deputy commissioner of police.
Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the blast. Sharif was born in Lahore and enjoys strong support there.
“Sunday’s suicide bombing at a public park was claimed by the Pakistani Taliban’s Jamaat-ur-Ahrar faction, which once declared loyalty to Islamic State. The group said it was targeting Christians,” said Reuters.
“The brutality of the attack, Jamaat-ur-Ahrar’s fifth bombing since December, reflects the movement’s attempts to raise its profile among Pakistan’s increasingly fractured Islamist militants.”
Alleged Suicide bomber named
Aftab Alexander Mughal, editor of the Minority Concern of Pakistan magazine and former a former National Executive Secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of Pakistan, has told ANS by e-mail that the alleged suicide bomber has been identified as Mohammad Yousaf, who he says comes from the district of Muzaffargarh, in southern Punjab.
“He studied in a madrasa [Islamic School] in Lahore, and he had resided at the same madrasa for the last 8 years.”
He added: “The Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR) said on Monday that a number of alleged terrorists and their facilitators have been arrested in anti-terrorism raid conducted in Lahore, Faisalabad and Multan.”
Meanwhile, ANS has received a news release from the largest mosque in San Bernardino County, California, saying that it will hold a prayer vigil today (March 28, 2016) at 7:00 PM for victims of the Easter Day massacre in Pakistan.
The mosque, which is part of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, also says that it “condemns” the brutal massacre of Christians in Lahore.
“We condemn this unconscionable crime against humanity,” said Asim Ansari, President of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Inland Empire Chapter. “Our hearts go out to the innocent victims and their families. We stand in solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters in Southern California during this difficult time.”
A spokesperson for the group, then said, “This was the latest in a long history of terrorist attacks committed by the Pakistan Taliban against religious minorities. On May 28, 2010, the Pakistani Taliban massacred 86 Ahmadi Muslims in twin terror attacks.
“In light of this tragedy, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Los Angeles East and Inland Empire Chapters will be holding a prayer vigil for the victims, their families and the entire grieving community.
“We pray for the swift recovery of the hundreds injured. We continue to work alongside the Pakistani Christian community to fight religious oppression in Pakistan and worldwide.”
Please join me in prayer for the courageous believers of Pakistan, especially those in Lahore, as they continue to face such barbaric violence and threats.
Photo captions: 1) Christian worshippers celebrating Easter at Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park only hours before the devastating explosion. (BPCA) 2) This mother lost her three children in the bombing. (BBC) 3) Injured Pakistani mother holding her child, and mourns the dead. 4) Paramedics treat a victim of the terrorist bomb blast. 5) Dan Wooding holding his BPCA award.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 75, is an award-winning winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 52 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS), and is also the author of some 45 books. Dan has received a special award by the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) for his long-standing reporting on the persecution of Christians in Pakistan.
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