QUETTA: At least nine members of the Christian community lost their lives and 56 suffered injuries in a terrorist attack on the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church here on Sunday.
The deceased included four women, while a one-and-a-half-year-old girl, 10 women and seven children were among those injured in the suicide attack on the church located on Zarghoon Road.
According to foreign news agency AP, the militant Islamic State group later claimed responsibility for the attack on their Amaq news agency, saying two “plungers” from their group had stormed the church, without providing further details.
One of the two bombers blew himself up outside the door of the church’s main hall, where hundreds of worshipers, including women and children, had gathered for Sunday Mass. The other suicide bomber was killed in a shootout with police near the main gate of the church.
Suicide bombers carried out action during Sunday Mass; IS claims responsibility
“The suicide bomber who detonated his suicide jacket could not enter the hall, where Sunday Mass was under way,” said Balochistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti.
Police quoted eyewitnesses as saying that two armed men entered the church around noon after scaling the main gate and began firing inside the church compound. This was followed by a powerful blast that rocked the entire neighbourhood, and heavy gunfire continued for nearly an hour. A large contingent of police, Frontier Corps and Quick Response Force personnel cordoned off the entire area and took positions inside the church. The fatalities occurred mainly near the front of the main hall.
“The victims were wounded by shrapnel from the suicide jacket and broken glass and wood splinters from the windowpanes and doors of the main hall. The front side of the hall was splattered with blood and the dead bodies and the injured lay scattered everywhere,” said Alexander A. Kelvin, 52, who was inside the hall when the explosion took place.
He told Dawn that one of his sister’s young children died in the blast and two others were injured, but his own wife and children remained unhurt.
Another survivor, Acme Roger, 40, who works as a cameraman for Geo TV, was also inside the building when the attack took place. He described how broken wooden pews, shattered glass and the musical instruments being used in the ceremony lay scattered around a Christmas tree inside the prayer hall, which was also soaked with blood.
“My mother, wife and two children were inside the hall when the blast took place, but they remained unhurt as they were sitting near the rear of the hall,” he told Dawn.
After the explosion, when firing broke out, those trapped inside the hall took shelter under the wooden pews. They were later pulled out by rescue workers and security personnel, who shifted them to the Quetta Civil Hospital.
“We received nine bodies and 56 injured,” Dr Wasim Beg, a spokesman for the hospital, told Dawn. He said a baby girl, who was badly injured along with her mother, had been admitted to the trauma centre and was undergoing treatment.
Balochistan Inspector General Moazzam Jah Ansari confirmed that around 400 people, including women and children, were inside the church when the suicide bomber blew himself up.
“The loss of life could have been much higher if the suicide bombers had forced their way into the hall where a service was under way,” IG Ansari said, adding that security was already on high alert in and around the Methodist church.
Home Minister Bugti and Quetta DIG Razzak Cheema said there were four attackers, and two of them fled the scene after both suicide bombers were killed. Eyewitnesses also claimed that they saw at least two persons who were firing towards the church while fleeing the area. Empty bullet casings were also found in the Zarghoon Road area.
Bomb disposal personnel defused the explosive jacket of the would-be bomber. Civil Defence Director Aslam Tareen told Dawn that 15kg of explosives had been used in both jackets.
Security forces sealed the church and a team from the Punjab Forensic Laboratory is due in Quetta on Monday (today) to inspect the site and collect evidence.
The suicide bomber’s remains were also collected, while the body of the second bomber was shifted to the hospital.
“They seemed to be of Uzbek origin,” a senior official told Dawn.
Commander Southern Command Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa and Maj Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum of the Frontier Corps also visited the Civil Hospital and inquired after the health of the injured. They assured the victims that all possible help and assistance would be provided to them.
Published in Dawn, December 18th, 2017