At least 14 people died and nearly 80 were wounded in deadly bomb blasts outside two churches in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Sunday morning, marking one of the country’s worst-ever attacks on its Christian minority.
A Pakistani Taliban splinter group called Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the twin explosions, which occurred just minutes apart during Sunday services at the churches in Lahore’s Youhanabad neighborhood, Reuters reports.
A policeman and a private security guard were reported to be among those killed in the blasts. Al Jazeera quoted a police spokesman as saying that suicide bombers were behind the attacks, which came just weeks after a suicide bombing outside a Lahore police compound killed several people.
The bombings on Sunday were followed by protests by Lahore’s Christian community about the lack of security. Local media reported that, shortly after the attacks, an angry crowd lynched two men suspected of involvement in the bombings.
Pastor David, a local cleric in Youhanabad, told AFP that the two churches were only 500 meters (1,640 feet) apart. “One blast took place at the entrance of one church where a congregation was going on,” he told the news agency. “Another blast took place in the second church.”
Speaking to Reuters, an eyewitness described the moment one of the suicide bombers blew himself up. “I was sitting at a shop near the church when a blast jolted the area. I rushed towards the spot and saw the security guard scuffle with a man who was trying to enter the church, after failing, he blew himself up,” said Amir Masih. “I saw his body parts flying through the air.”
The attack in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province, is one of worst ever on the country’s Christian minority; the deadliest occurred in September 2013, when at least 80 worshippers were killed at a historic church in the restive north-western city of Peshawar.
After the bombings, Pope Francis went off-script during his usual address at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, telling the crowd he was pained by the attack. “These are Christian churches,” he said. “Christians are persecuted, our brothers spill their blood simply because they are Christians.”