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Christian worshippers celebrating Easter at Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park only hours before the devastating explosion.
A powerful bomb blast rocked Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore today on Easter Sunday evening. The blast is believed to have killed over 60 people and to have injured over 200 local police have said.
The explosion took place inside a children's park known as Gulshan-i-Iqbal at Iqbal Town. A large number of families, especially women and children, were present when the blast took place Many of these are believed to be Christians as it is a common tradition for families to go to a local funfair to celebrate the birth of Christ after their Easter devotions. 36 of the fatalities are known to be Christians after a suicide bomber detonated his explosive device packed with ball bearings intentionally close to the children's play area.
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Casualties have been taken to local hospitals including Lahore General Hospital which does not have a special burns unit. It is believed the attack took place during the celebrations of Easter in an attempt to target Christians. Distraught family members have gathered outside local hospitals and the government has announced a three day mourning period.
The targeting of Christians in this attack has been ignored by Pakistan's media who seem intent on hiding the fact that this occurs in their country.
Instead of referring to the twin bomb attack at a Peshawar Church 19th September 2013 that killed over 100 Christians injuring a further 123, or the Lahore bomb attack of 15th March 2015 that killed over 30 people and left 60 injured and was not too far from this most recent attack by either date or vicinity, they have opted to relate this incident to the the Peshawar gun attack waged at a school for military children of Muslim faith. However, this act of violence was intended for one purpose to target and kill Christians considered anathema in Pakistan. It is believed that families were targeted at the park because the security at churches has become much tighter, since previous attacks. Sadly little security was present at the Park a precaution that will no doubt increase at future events.
While Christians in Lahore were reeling from the attack, riots were erupting in the country's capital city of Islamabad. Thousands of supporters of Mumtaz Qadri, who was hanged last month for the murder of Punjab’s governor Salman Taseer in 2011, staged a sit-in outside the national parliament. Government officials were submitted with a list of demands, the foremost of which is the immediate execution of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who is on death row charged with blasphemy. Prior to this bombing BPCA had made several requests to the Pakistani High Commission calling for better protection of Christians during this period of increased schism, as they had become the main target for extremists since the hanging of Mr Qadri. It would seem the Pakistani Government did not heed the BPCA warning.
Pakistan is a nuclear-armed nation of 190 million people, is plagued by a Taliban insurgency, criminal gangs, anti-Christian and sectarian violence. Punjab is its biggest and wealthiest province. Lahore has the largest population of Christians of any city in Pakistan.
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Already Christian families have informed us of death and injury to their family members. Brave Naveed Aziz travelled immediately to the site of the attack and heard disturbing accounts of the injuries sustained by victims. Body parts were thrown all over the site and the smell of burning flesh lingered and still pervades in the air around the site. The site has been secured by the local police and army but news teams have gathered outside and are hovering for any eye witness stories.
Naveed by the police cordon
One young man Husnain spoke of the terror he felt. He and his family had just started walking away from the fun park and were travelling home to get some rest so they could get up early in the morning to help with the clearing up of their church. As they started back a loud bang erupted and they were thrown to the ground. He said:
"Fortunately none of us were injured badly but I remember feeling this sudden eruption of searing heat that quickly dissipated. In the ensuing panic children were separated from their families as they ran in a panic not knowing what to do. All I could hear was screaming and shouting people came to help the injured. Everyone was crying it was a very emotionally draining experience and all I can remember is all the dead people around me."
Local people helped injured victims into rickshaws, ambulances and taxis and they were hurriedly taken to local hospitals such as Jinnah Hospital, Lahore General Hospital, and Farooq Hospital. Naveed Aziz is currently visiting victims in hospital to see how we can help.
Akash Masih receives treatment for wounds to his leg
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the BPCA, said:
"This recent attack is a clear targeting of Christians during their Easter celebrations. Families celebrating the resurrection of their Lord and Saviour have lost mothers and children as a consequence of this depraved violence. The bomb attack happened on the same day that thousands of 'average' Muslims marched through Islamabad incensed by the judicial hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, murderer of Governor Salman Taseer an advocate for minorities in Pakistan. The majority of Muslims in Pakistan believe he is an Islamic martyr and national hero for killing a man who stood for Christians and other minorities. I am sure that this growing hatred of minorities in the wake of Mr Qadri's death was a trigger for today's blast, one that we predicted and called on Pakistan's g\overnment to protect Christians during this tenuous period. Pakistan is not safe for Christians as there is a genocide taking place there. Not a genocide that is state sponsored in it's entirety but a genocide nevertheless. Unless western governments wake up to this problem the death toll for Christians living there is set to rise exponentially."
Juliet Chowdhry, Trustee of the BPCA lost 13 members of the family during the Peshawar bomb attack. Today she discovered that two of her cousins have also lost their lives. She said:
"The evil men that planned this event need to be caught and punished. My family grows smaller year by year while the world looks on and does nothing. God will bring rest to the weary souls who have lost their lives and I take solace in knowing that he will care for my family members in a place they will not be discriminated against or persecuted. I will weep for them now but one day God will restore my joy."
This morning two teenagers who went to the funfair with friends were buried in a very sombre event. This will only be a start for the community of Lahore who suffered a twin church bomb attack last year. The two victims were from Youhanabad the same location as that previous attack. BPCA has already offered to compensate the victims for the funeral costs.
We have set up a disaster recovery appeal to help and assist these families. Our donations will help secure medical supplies and pay for hospital treatments, pay for funeral costs and help with the long term rehabilitation and trauma counselling of victims. If you would like to support our appeal financially please contribute by using this link (click here)
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God's peace and comfort for casualities and their families.
Hospitals will provide proper care to injured Christians
Police and military will do their utmost to find and apprehend those responsible
That Britain and USA will reconsider the millions of aid to Pakistan which currently is given under the mistaken notion that they are allies in the war against terror.
That the BPCA can assist as many people as possible.
TV crews amass at the scene of the attack
Shehzad Mehboob is the only survivor from his family
Falak Sher lost his wife Annie during the bomb attack
Hospitals in Lahore are crowded.