A Christian family of four in southwestern Pakistan were murdered by Islamic State militants on Monday in the latest attack on the persecuted religious minority.
The family was traveling in a rickshaw in the evening when an armed group on motorcycles intercepted them and shot them dead in Quetta city, the capital of Baluchistan province.
The attack took place just a day after Pakistan’s minority Christian community, around two percent of its population, celebrated Easter Sunday. The family had reportedly been to visit relatives in Quetta’s Shahzaman road area, where a sizeable proportion of the city’s Christian community resides.
“It appears to have been a targeted attack,” provincial police official Moazzam Jah Ansari told Reuters. “It was an act of terrorism.”
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Islamic State claimed that a “covert unit” of ISIS militants “managed to target a number of the combatant Christians.”
The statement added that the militants “shot them with a pistol, which resulted in the killing of four of them, and all praise is due to Allah.” However, the group has yet to provide any evidence of its involvement.
In recent years, Christians in Pakistan have fallen victim to multiple Islamist attacks designed to intimidate them and force them out the country, home to an overwhelming Muslim majority. Attacks typically take place around the time of Christian festivals.
Last December, two Islamic State jihadis stormed a packed Christian church and set off a suicide bomb in an attack that killed at least ten people and wounded up to 56 others.
The Christian presence in Pakistan historically precedes the formation of the Islamic Pakistani state, and Christians there argue that they have more of an indigenous claim to the land than the many Muslims who left India to live in Pakistan after partition.
Approximately 100 Christians are also detained every year on charges of violating Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws. Last March, around 4,000 people marched on the streets in a protest demanding the government extend the country’s blasphemy law to include the death penalty.
As many Christians in Pakistan are considered part of lower castes, they also face severe discrimination from wealthier Muslim Pakistanis and remain less socially advantaged.