PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Angry Pakistani Christians today denounced the deadliest attack ever in this country against members of their faith as the death toll from the church bombings climbed overnight to 85.
A pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up amid hundreds of worshippers outside a historic church in northwestern Pakistan.
The attack on the All Saints Church in the city of Peshawar, which also wounded more than 140 people, occurred as worshippers were leaving after services to get a free meal of rice offered on the front lawn. A wing of the Pakistani Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying they would continue to target non-Muslims until the U.S. stops drone attacks in the remote tribal region of Pakistan.
The bombings also raised new questions about the Pakistani government’s push to strike a peace deal with the militants to end a decade-long insurgency that has killed thousands of people.
“What dialogue are we talking about? Peace with those who are killing innocent people,” said the head of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, Paul Bhatti, whose brother, a federal minister, was gunned down by an Islamic extremist in 2011.
“They don’t want dialogue,” said Bhatti. “They don’t want peace.
“Our state and our intelligence agencies are so weak that anybody can kill anyone anytime. It is a shame,” Bhatti said.
Angry Christians blocked roads around the country to protest the bombings. On one of the main roads coming into the capital of Islamabad, demonstrators burned tires and demanded government protection for the members of the Christian minority.
“Our people have been killed. ... Nobody seems to bother about us. No one apprehended the killers,” said Aqeel Masih, one of the protesters. He added that he fears Pakistanis will simply forget about the bloodshed in a few days.
In the southern port city of Karachi, a few hundred demonstrators chanted “Stop killing Christians!” and demanded that those who attacked their community be held accountable.
“We want an end to extremism, terrorism and barbarianism in Pakistan,” said Bashir John, a priest.
Missionary schools around the country would be closed for three days, said Christian leader Nasir Gill.
Churches and other places important to the Christian community in Peshawar have been given extra security, said Khan, the police official.
But this has not been sufficient to appease angry Christians in Pakistan, who want the government to take even stronger steps to protect them.
Many churches, as well as mosques and other religious institutions, already receive some type of police protection although many Christians say that is too little. A police officer who was supposed to be protecting the church where the suicide bombers attacked Sunday was killed in the incident.
Christians are a minority in Pakistan, where roughly 96 percent of the country’s 180 million people are Muslim. The rest belong to other religions, including Christianity. Christians have often been attacked by Sunni Muslim militants, who view them as enemies of Islam because of their faith.
Christians are in a precarious position in Pakistan. While many Pakistanis condemned the Sunday bombings, Christians have often faced discrimination across the country. They often find it difficult to get access to education or better jobs and are known for having to contend with menial labor such as garbage collecting or street cleaning.
Associated Press writers Asif Shahzad in Islamabad and Abdul Sattar in Quetta contributed to this report.