LAHORE: At least 15 people were killed and more than 70 injured when two Taliban suicide bombers attacked churches in Lahore on Sunday, sparking mob violence in which two other suspected militants died.
The bombings occurred during prayers at two churches located around half a kilometre apart in the city's Youhanabad neighbourhood that is home to more than 100,000 Christians, officials said.
Broken window panes, blood and shoes were scattered across the blast sites.
Police spokeswoman Nabila Ghazanfar said two policemen guarding the churches were among those killed in the attacks, while two people were beaten to death by protesters who took to the streets after the blasts.
“Policemen on duty at both the entrances tried to stop them but the bombers blew themselves up,” she told AFP.
The angry mob protesting after the blast beat to death two people whom they suspected of being associates of the attackers. An AFP photographer saw the bodies of the two suspected militants on fire after the beatings. It was not clear whether they were still alive at the time.
Up to 4,000 Christians later spread across the city’s streets; many were armed with clubs as they smashed vehicles and attacked a Metro bus station in a rare show of anger by the beleaguered minority.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction claimed responsibility for the attack.
The thousands of Christian protesters who clashed with police on Sunday attacked their cars with stones and sticks, as women wept and beat their heads and chests.
The protesters, some wearing crosses round their necks, later turned on the city's bus rapid transit system -- a signature project of the ruling PML-N party of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Christians make up around two percent of Pakistan's mainly Muslim population of 180 million. They have been targeted in attacks and riots in recent years, often over allegations of blasphemy.
Sunday's attacks were the worst on the community since a devastating 2013 double suicide-bombing in Peshawar that killed 82 people. That attack came months after more than 3,000 protesters torched some 100 houses as they rampaged through Joseph Colony, another Christian neighbourhood of Lahore, following blasphemy allegations against a Christian man.
Sharif in a statement condemned the church bombings and “directed provincial governments to ensure the security of (the) public and their properties”.
Zaeem Qadri, a spokesman for the provincial government, said efforts were being made to talk to the protesters to stop the rioting but “emotions are very high because their churches have been attacked”.
Christians also took to the streets in other cities, including Karachi, where around 200 protesters blocked a main road and burnt tyres. There were also demonstrations in Peshawar in the northwest, in the central city of Multan and in Quetta in the southwest.
Sunday's attack was the first by the Taliban since three of their major factions said on Thursday they had reunited.
The military has stepped up its fight against militants since Taliban gunmen massacred more than 150 people, most of them children, at a school in Peshawar in December.
A moratorium on executions in terror cases was lifted and the constitution amended to set up military courts for the speedy trial of terrorism cases. Later, the death penalty was reinstated for all capital cases.
End of live updates
6:35pm - Sindh government announces day of mourning
The Sindh provincial government has announced a day of mourning on Monday as a response to the horrific attacks.
4:46pm - Compensation announced
Government announces Rs500,000 for those killed in the attack, and Rs75,000 for those injured.
3:30pm - Death toll climbs to 15
Another wounded man died while receiving treatment at the Lahore General Hospital, taking the death toll of the Taliban-claimed attack to 15.
The condition of 30 wounded people is reported as critical. They have been shifted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of LGH.
Girls mourn over a family member who was killed by a suicide bombing attack near two churches in Lahore, Pakistan, Sunday, March 15, 2015. — AP
2:50pm – ‘Terrorists will be brought to justice’
PML-N leader Rana Mashood, says that the government resolve to tackle the issue of militancy is strong and added, “Terrorists will be brought to justice."
Talking about the victims of today's blasts he said "We have not looked at religion, they are our brothers and we have to deliver for them.”
“We are not separated by religion, this is an attack on Pakistan, and we feel their pain. Their pain is felt by everyone,” the Punjab education minister told media personnel.
He added, “We are making arrangements for the casualties, they will be taken care of. We will follow procedure in this regard.”
The Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) leader said policemen had sacrificed their lives while performing their duties and had not allowed the attackers to enter the church premises.
“Police reports cannot confirm any details because they don’t have proper access to the site. People shouldn’t take law into their own hands,” he added.
2:15pm - Missionary schools closed tomorrow
Missionary schools in Karachi and across Punjab will remain closed tomorrow in protest of the attack on churches in Lahore.
Citizens and rescue workers gather outside a church damaged from a suicide bombing attack in Lahore, Pakistan, Sunday, March 15, 2015.— AP
1:55pm - Death toll of Lahore blasts reaches 14: LGH officials
Officials of the Lahore General Hospital confirmed that the number of people killed in the blasts in Youhanabad area has reached 14 while the number of wounded is 68, including several who are critically wounded.
Doctors at the provincial capital city's hospitals have also made appeals for blood donations.
Punjab Health Director General Dr Zahid Pervez also confirmed that 14 people have died and 78 others have been wounded in the Lahore attack.
A Punjab police spokesperson confirmed that two policemen are among those killed in the attack.
1:45pm - Christian community members stage protests in Karachi
Members of the Christian community took to the streets and staged protests in Karachi's Esa Nagri area against the bomb attacks on churches in Lahore.
The protesters blocked the route from Hasan Square to Liaqatabad area of the city.
Similar protests staged in Multan, Faisalabad and Sialkot cities.
1:40pm - Former Punjab law minister confirms death toll
Former Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah confirmed that 10 people have been killed so far in the blasts near two churches in Lahore.
He added that the dead included six members of the Christian community, two policemen and two other men, who were beaten to death by the enraged mob on suspicion of involvement in the blast.
The former law minister said that five policemen were also wounded in the incident.
1:30pm - Christian community leader blames Punjab govt
A local leader of the Christian community told mediapersons that both the blasts took place at the entrance of the churches.
He added, “Had the attackers managed to enter the churches, the casualty figure would have soared as there were more than a thousand persons present at the place of worship at the time of attack.”
The community leader also accused the Punjab government of incompetence and blamed it for the attack.
Pastor David, a local cleric at the site, told AFP: “One blast took place at the entrance of one church where a congregation was going on. Another blast took place in the second church,” and added that the two buildings were 500 metres (1,600 feet) apart.
1:20pm - Protesters block metro bus route
Several protesters carrying sticks blocked either side of Lahore's Ferozepur Road and blocked the metro bus route disrupting the bus operation.
Television footage showed dozens of stick-wielding men, mostly belonging to the Christian community, ransacking the metro bus terminal.
1:10pm - Four policemen were held hostage
Enraged protesters held four injured policemen captive at a shop after the blast, for allegedly watching a cricket match instead of performing their duties at the time of attack.
The mob apparently held the injured policemen in the shop for nearly two hours before they were shifted to hospital.
One of the policemen succumbed to his injuries.
Meanwhile, protests continue against the government.
1:03pm - Eyewitness account
“I was sitting at a shop near the church when a blast jolted the area. I rushed towards the spot and saw the security guard scuffle with a man who was trying to enter the church, after failing, he blew himself up,” said witness Amir Masih.
“I saw his body parts flying through the air...the guard died as well", he said.
It was not clear if the first blast was also a suicide bomber, Masih said.
1:00pm - Protest against PM, CM
Protesters have launched a demonstration outside General Hospital against the Punjab government. Sloganeering continues against the PM and CM.
The enraged protesters demand accountability, and say proper security was not provided to the churches.
Images from inside the churches are coming in:
Damage inside one of the churches
A weapon found at the site of the attack
12:50pm - Death toll reaches 10
At least ten people have died and more than 50 wounded in the bomb attacks near two churches in Lahore's Youhanabad area.
12:37pm - 6 dead
The death toll has now climbed to six, while at least 50 are injured.
A young child and a policeman are among those killed. Four bodies received at the Lahore General Hospital while two bodies received at Jinnah Hospital.
Police have resorted to aerial firing to disperse the enraged mob.
12:35pm - Enraged mob in Youhanabad
Police is attempting to control the large, enraged mob in the Youhanabad area.
Members of the crowd have reportedly told the police not to approach, or face consequences. A massive protest is underway. People gathered in the area claim no adequate security was provided to them.
12:30pm - 5 dead
At least five people have died in the attack so far, while another 40 are wounded – some critically.
Family members of the victims crowd hospitals
12:22pm - TTP-JA claim responsibility
Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan Jamatul Ahrar group spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan says the militant outfit takes responsibility for the attack.
12:13pm - Cop among victims
Policeman among those killed in the blasts. The number of wounded rises to 40 and includes women and children.
The body of the man who was lynched by the enraged mob, after being snatched from policemen, has been set on fire.
12:09pm - Two arrested
Two suspects have been arrested from near the blast sites.
One young man, alleged to be involved in the attack, was earlier beaten to death by the enraged mob.
12:06pm - Young child killed
A young child, estimated to be 12 years of age is among those killed. At least 37 other wounded have been counted at one hospital so far.
A stream of wounded are still being brought into nearby hospitals.
12:03pm - Suicide bombers
Initial reports suggest two suicide bombers reached the gates of two churches and blew themselves up. The attackers attempted to enter the churches, but were successfully stopped at the gates.
Eyewitnesses said that the Sunday church ceremony was underway when two suspects approached the main gate and opened fire, before blowing themselves up.
12:00pm - 3 dead
At least three people have died in the blasts. Many wounded are being brought into the hospital.
11:57am - Young man killed
According to initial reports, the mob has beaten the young man to death.
Eye witnesses claim the individual was involved in the attack.
11:55am - Mob beats up individual
The enraged crowd has beaten up an unknown person at the site of the blasts. The young man is estimated to be 20-22 years old.
11:50am - Critically wounded
The condition of several wounded is reported as critical. A large number of people have gathered at the hospital.
11:45am - 20 injured
Initial reports suggest at least 20 people were injured in the blasts who were shifted to Lahore General Hospital where an emergency has been imposed.
11:30am - Emergency teams dispatched
Emergency and security teams were dispatched to the site of explosion. The nature and intensity of the blasts are yet to be ascertained.