Sunday services at Christ Church and St. John’s Catholic Church on March 15th in Lahore ended in chaos after two attacks by Muslim extremists. The two attacks by suicide bombers in the Youhanabad area of Lahore claimed at least 10 lives and injured more than 50, including women and children. The exact number of casualties is uncertain at this time.
In the two attacks, at least 78 people were injured. According to the Lahore General Hospital’s administration, 32 of those people were in critical condition. The attacks in both Christ Church and St. John’s Catholic Church shared many similarities. At Christ Church, the priest was preparing to call the congregation to take part in the communion service when gunshots and explosions rocked the church. The Taliban splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has claimed responsibility for this attack. Christ Church, under the diocese of Lahore, and St. John’s Catholic Church are both well-known, historical churches in Youhanabad; an average of 400 people attend the combined services in the two churches.
According to Police spokeswoman Nabila Ghazanfar, two policemen, Yawar Ali and Muhammad Asghar, who were guarding the churches at the time of the attacks, were among those killed. They attempted to stop the attackers from entering the church; their efforts, indeed, prevented the suicide bombers from getting close to the congregation and inflicting the same kind of damage that occurred in Peshawar in 2013. In both blasts, the attackers used 8-10 kilograms of detonated material. Ball bearings and bolts were added to the detonated material to increase the destructive impact of the explosion. According to Ghazanfar, the suicide attackers were between 24 and 28 years old.
Abhishak (12), 3rd grade student, was killed in the attack. Moses (15) also died in the attack. He had been close to the church entrance and boldly stood his ground, helping to prevent the attackers from getting past the first line of defense at the gate of the church.
According to the list issued by the Hospital, the decreased include Abhishak, Moses, Qaisar, Sajid, Shahzad, Alyas Bhatti, Arshad, Abdul Majid, Nadeem, Sadiq, Zahid, Asghar Ali, Yawar Ali, Akash, Rahmat Bhatti, Abid, and a pregnant woman named Ambreen.
At Christ Church, two policemen and a church parish member realized that the man outside the church was a bomber. They held him back from entering the church, knowing full well that it could cost their lives. At St. John’s Catholic Church, two cousins, Qaisar and Akash, stopped the bomber at the gate by physically restraining him to keep him from getting to the church. They both died saving the lives of hundreds of others.
“Before the blast occurred, we heard aggressive arguments taking place between the security and the attacker,” reported eyewitnesses. “Then, loud gun shots and heavy firing was heard, followed by loud explosions and everything became engulfed in smoke.”
Another eyewitness who was sitting in a nearby shop said, “I was sitting at a shop near the church when a blast jolted the area. I rushed toward the spot to see what was happening and saw the security guard locked in a physical fight with a man who was trying to enter the church. After failing, the attacker blew himself up, and I saw his body parts flying through the air… the guard died, as well. It seemed as though the Devil was laughing in that moment.”
Protesters who took to the streets after the blasts beat two men to death. The angry mob claimed that the men were carrying pistols, bullets and hand grenades. It is unclear if the two were associated with the suicide bombers, because there are many Muslims of Pakhtoun descent in the area of Youhanabad. Their arrival in the area has increased local tension, and they are well known to have access to serious ammunition. The two men were violently beaten to death, and their bodies were set on fire. Protestors also badly damaged the metro bus station.
Church leaders attempted to calm the angry mob, reminding them of how Christ would have them respond. Bishops, priests, and interdenominational pastors united to bring a message of peace to the people and pray with them. In spite of these efforts, tensions remained high through the day, and there were protests throughout the city. Later in the day, a thunderstorm dispersed the mob, but concerns remained over the possibility of renewed protests in the days ahead. The Taliban, who has claimed responsibility for this attack, promises attacks will continue in the days to come unless Pakistan falls in line with becoming an Islamic State.
Father, indeed at times it seems that the devil is gaining ground. Keep our eyes on You and the absolute confidence we have that the victory has been won, and the devil’s schemes will one day cease . . . forever. We pray for the injured; that You will bring healing to both body and soul. We pray for the families of those who mourn; that You will bring comfort and peace that can only come from Your hand at times like this. We pray for all those who were present; that You will turn the emotional and spiritual trauma into peace of mind, courage and hope. We pray for godly responses to these attacks, as well as others in Pakistan, and we pray for wisdom to discern what a godly response is. And, we would even be so bold as to pray for the attackers; that You would defeat them by turning their hearts from darkness to saving faith in Christ. In the name of Jesus, our anchor of hope in times of trouble, Amen.