According to its own media outlet, the Amaq News Agency, the Islamic State (ISIS) has publicly claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta, the capital city of the Baluchistan province in Pakistan. So far, nine are dead and over 50 were injured after a pair of extremists suicide-bombed and shot at Christian worshippers during a Sunday pre-Christmas service.
Government officials reported to the media that one suicide bomber detonated himself at the gate of the church, while another terrorist was killed while shooting at church attendees. Police official Abdur Razaq Cheema reported, however, that at least two attackers escaped and that a search is underway. Despite claiming responsibility for the attack, the Amaq News Agency shared no further details.
According to Sarfraz Bugti, the province’s home minister, as many as 400 Christians were present at the service. Police have also reported that swift actions of “security forces” to neutralize the attackers before reaching the sanctuary prevented more people from becoming casualties.
"Arguably, the quick response of the security forces at the church reduced the impact of this attack, but that has done nothing to ease the anxiety that Christians are feeling," said Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the London-based charity British Pakistani Christian Association. "Christians clearly need more protection as two attacks on churches in two months is becoming too common an incident."
Hospital officials have reported that two women were among the dead and 10 women and seven children were among those injured.
Quetta has suffered several violent attacks this year, resulting in deployment of military and paramilitary troops to the area. Human rights advocates urged the government to provide greater protections for Christians during Christmas time. "Law enforcement agencies have badly failed in protecting common citizens, and minorities in particular," Shamaun Alfred Gill, a Christian activist in Islamabad shared with The New York Times. "December is a month of Christian religious rituals," he added. "We had demanded the government beef up security for churches all over the country. But they have failed to do so."