The Islamist terror group behind Sunday’s suicide bombing in Pakistan has declared that the intended target of the religiously motivated attack that killed more than 70 children and adults was “Christians.”
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, has taken credit for the Easter-Day massacre and specified its purpose.
“The target was Christians,” said JuA spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, who added that the jihadists wanted to send a message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif “that we have entered Lahore.”
Formally allied with the Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (“Assembly of the Free”) is a militant Sunni Islamic terror group that has been “openly supportive of the Islamic State,” with which it shares key objectives, including the establishment of an Islamic State in Pakistan.
The same group claimed responsibility for last year’s March 15 double suicide attacks on Christian churches in Youhanabad, Lahore, that killed 17 people. The Easter Sunday bombing is the fifth attack by the group since December 2015.
The death toll for Sunday’s massacre now stands at 72 victims, mostly women and children, along with at least 320 injured.
The 28-year-old suicide bomber Yousuf Farid blew himself up Sunday in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore, where hundreds of Christian families had gathered to celebrate the feast of Easter. The bomber placed himself near an area of the park where small children were playing sports and outdoor games.
As of Monday morning, Pakistani police had arrested 15 people including three brothers of the young suicide bomber who blew himself up among the families.
Pakistan is a confessional Islamic state with a huge Muslim majority, and its 2 million Christians make up less than 2 percent of the country’s population of more than 182 million people.
Sunday’s bombing was the deadliest jihadist attack in Pakistan since the December 2014 massacre of 134 school children at a military run academy in the city of Peshawar.
Pakistani Christians have long protested the lack of government protection from terrorist attacks and random, unsubstantiated accusations of blasphemy.
Father Bernardo Cervellera, the director of AsiaNews, told Vatican Radio after last March’s attack that both Catholics and Protestants have continually complained of the lack of security on the part of the government of Punjab, where there have been repeated “violence and attacks on churches and mosques on the part of the Taliban.”
According to eyewitnesses of that attack, “some of the policemen who were supposed to be guarding these churches, were in a bar watching a cricket match instead.”
Cervellera said that the government of Pakistan has always been “ambiguous towards the Taliban.” On the one hand, he said, “it has always protected them and given them shelter and refuge,” mainly in northern Pakistan, and at the same time, Pakistan is supposedly allied with the international community to combat terrorism.
Cervellera also said that “the Taliban have spread throughout the land because during all these years they have managed to create some 20,000-25,000 Koranic schools that teach fundamentalist Islam,” and as a result, “there are extremists everywhere,” who fight against both Christians and Shiites.
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