In near simultaneous explosions, two suicide bombers exploded shrapnel laden vests outside All Saints’ Church in the old city of Peshawar on Sunday killing scores of Pakistani Christians in the Taliban’s latest attack on religious minorities in Pakistan.
Police reported at least 78 people, including 37 children killed in the blast. Church of Pakistan leaders tell Anglican Ink they estimate the death toll to be at least 150, with hundreds more wounded.
The attack came following the main service at All Saints Kohati Gate, a colonial church built in 1883 by the CMS along the design of a mosque to offer a familiar atmosphere to converts to Christianity. As the 600 worshippers filed out the front of the church to waiting buffet tables offering coffee and a light lunch, two men walked past a police guard into the compound and detonated their vests, sending ball bearings, nails and other pieces of shrapnel through the crowd.
The attack comes after a week of anti-Christian violence across the globe and a year and a day after a mob led by Haqqani Taliban militants destroyed St. Paul’s Church in neighboring Mardan.
The Church of Pakistan issued a call for three days of mourning and solidarity in the wake of the attack – a call taken up by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the national governments.
The Bishop in Peshawar, the Rt. Rev. Humphrey Peters, who was conducting a pastoral visit in Bannu in Waziristan when the attack occurred, issued a statement on 23 Sept 2013 condemning the attack.
Bishop Peters said the “attack on All Saint's Church is the total failure of the new” provincial government, which “has failed to provide security to the minorities in Khayber Pakhtunkhwa, Peshawar Pakistan.” He appealed “to the all-Christian Community in Pakistan and around the world to pray for the affected families.”
The bishop reported Peshawar’s hospitals had been overwhelmed by the casualties, and the “number of dead is expected to rise.”
“I spoke to one of a parish member in All Saints' Church. He said he has lost his aunty and nephew in this attack. According to those we have spoken to, among the dead were a number of Sunday school children and Choir members of the Church who were who were all in the Church compound at the moment of the blasts.”
The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they will continue to attack non-Sunni Muslims until the coalition forces end their drone attacks against terrorists in Waziristan. The attack on Peshawar’s Christians follows upon attacks by the Taliban against Shia Muslims in Quetta this past February which killed 200, and on-going attacks against members of the Ahmadiyya community.
In a letter to students and faculty, the Dean of Edwardes College in Peshawar, the Rev. Dr. Titus Pressler said the “scale of the atrocity is terrible. News is still coming in, but it is said that about 150 people or more were killed and 200 or more were injured. The news has gone around the world.”
Dr. Pressler reported that members of the Muslim community were quick to reach out to Christians with offers of prayer and support. “Such ecumenical spirit is crucial in any place and time, but especially so in Peshawar and in Pakistan today,” he wrote. “So I thank God for such compassion and generosity of spirit between people of different religions.”
In a letter to the Church of Pakistan, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said he was “appalled” by the news.
“My heart goes out to all those bereaved and injured by this terrible attack. I pray for the peace of Pakistan and the protection of Christ's people. With the people of Peshawar I join in calling for the Pakistan Government and all people of good will to ensure that communities may go about their daily lives in safety, and that the perpetrators are brought to justice.”
In a Twitter message released on 22 September 2013 the archbishop said: “Peshawar bomb reveals depths of human evil, yet those suffering speak of forgiveness as well as justice. That is the love of Jesus shown.”
U.S. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori added her voice to those praying for Pakistan, writing: “This act of violence is a reminder of the preciousness and fragility of life, and of our interconnectedness. We are all wounded, we have all lost family, friends, and fellow citizens of the world. We will continue to pray for the bereaved, for the injured, for the perpetrators, for their communities, and for this broken world. May all the faithful departed rest in peace, and may God receive them with arms of mercy and compassion.”