Christians hold funerals for victims of church attacks

Published March 17, 2015
Pakistani Christians pray for victims of a pair of Taliban suicide bombings that struck two churches the day before, in Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, March 16, 2015. — AFP
Pakistani Christians pray for victims of a pair of Taliban suicide bombings that struck two churches the day before, in Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, March 16, 2015. — AFP

LAHORE: Members of the Christian community held funerals amidst tight security Tuesday for the victims of twin Taliban suicide attacks that targeted churches two days earlier in the worst attack on the minority group in over a year.

Seventeen people died as a result of the suicide bombings in the Youhanabad district of Lahore, with more than 70 wounded.

Two men were later lynched by a mob who suspected they were militants, though authorities Tuesday announced they were investigating claims by relatives of one of the men that he was an innocent shopkeeper caught up in the fracas.

Take a look: Lahore lynching victim identified as local glass cutter

The attack also sparked two days of rioting by thousands of Christians who clashed with water canon-wielding police, blocked roads and forced a partial shutdown of the city's public bus system.

At least two Christians were also killed Monday when a panicked female motorist drove through a crowd of protesters, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told parliament Tuesday, revising an earlier figure of one death in the incident. Around a dozen people were also injured.

Examine: Mob lynching is ‘worst kind of terrorism’, says Nisar

In the low-income Youhanabad neighbourhood, home to more than 100,000 Christians, police and paramilitary rangers were out in force preventing outsiders from entering.

“We have deployed more than 5,000 policemen and paramilitary rangers," senior police official Haider Ashraf told AFP.

Shops were closed as grieving residents made their way toward the burial grounds, while senior cleric Bishop Irfan Jameel appealed for calm.

“Please remain peaceful and carry on the struggle against terrorism by forging unity as a nation among ourselves,” Jameel said, adding that a memorial would be built to honour the “martyrs of Youhanabad”.

Punjab home minister Shuja Khanzada meanwhile told AFP the government was hunting the culprits of the attack.

Also Tuesday, police said the Muslim family of one of the men killed by a Christian mob had reported his death and said he was the owner of a glasscutting shop and had no ties to the Taliban attack.

“The family of the man, identified as Muhammad Saleem, said in an application that he was innocent and he had no link or a role whatsoever in the attacks,” city police chief Amin Wains told AFP, adding his force was investigating the matter.

Interior Minister Khan meanwhile vowed to bring the perpetrators of the mob killings to justice.

“Burning two people alive and damaging public property is also... (a) form of terrorism,” he said. “All those who have done this will be identified through the video footage and will be arrested.

“Christians, who make up around two per cent of Pakistan's mostly Muslim population of 180 million, have been increasingly targeted in recent years, often over allegations of profanity regarding the Quran or the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).

Sunday's attacks were the worst on the community since a devastating double suicide-bombing in the northwestern city of Peshawar in September 2013 killed 82 people.

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