At least 70 people, mostly Christians and children, have been killed in a mass suicide attack in Lahore, Pakistan, on Easter Sunday, with the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar terror group claiming responsibility and admitting it targeted Christians.
Another 300 people were injured in the bomb blast, which was carried out in a park in Lahore, close to a children’s playground which was more crowded than usual as the minority Christian population was celebrating Easter, BBC News reported.
Persecution watchdog groups have called for a response from the Western world, asking why close attention is only paid to terror attacks in the U.S. and Europe, and not elsewhere around the world as well.
“Today’s suicide bombing in Pakistan, which was specifically targeted at Christians celebrating the Easter holiday, is one of the countless examples of the escalating global persecution against Christians. Each life lost is precious. I’m disappointed that the Western world only seems to pay close attention when attacks happen here in the West. The lives lost in Africa, the Middle East or Southeast Asia are just as valuable as those lost in Europe or the United States. We should be equally outraged by their loss,” Open Doors USA President and CEO David Curry responded to the news in a statement.
“Countering the kind of terrorism we saw today in Pakistan will take strong leadership and skilled diplomacy from the United States with other like-minded nations. Together, we must speak out against religious persecution wherever it may be found,” he added.
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Pakistani officials said on Monday that they are searching for Jamaat-ul-Ahrar militants that could have been involved in the planning of the attack, who according to Reuters are a Taliban splinter group that has pledged loyalty to the Islamic State.
“We must bring the killers of our innocent brothers, sisters and children to justice and will never allow these savage inhumans to over- run our life and liberty,” military spokesman Asim Bajwa said.
One witness explained that the park had been so overcrowded that he was unable to enter when he arrived there.
“We went to a canteen to have something to eat, when there was suddenly a big blast,” said the man, who gave his name as Danish.
“Everyone went panic, running to all directions. Many of them were blocked at the gate of the park. Dead bodies can be found everywhere.”
Another man who chose to remain anonymous told The Associated Press that he had taken 20 children to hospital, and said: “I can’t explain to you the tragic situation.”
A spokesman for Jamaat-ul-Ahrar said that the attack on Christians was a direct challenge to the government.
“The target was Christians,” spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said. “We want to send this message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered Lahore.”
Pakistan’s minority Christian population has suffered numerous heavy attacks in the last few years, including a deadly bomb blast at a Peshawar church in 2013, where over 80 people were killed.
Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, explained that Pakistani Christians have a long tradition of celebrating as families at local park fun fairs, and said that the attackers specifically targeted children.
“The bomb that was packed full of ball bearings was set of near the children’s area with intent to pick off the most vulnerable of visitors to the park,” Chowdhry added, noting that the BPCA has started a donations fund for the victims.