Suicide bombers have attacked a Methodist church in Quetta, Pakistan, killing at least eight people and injuring more than 30 others. The "Islamic State" jihadi group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
"Islamic State" (IS) militants stormed a Methodist church filled with Christian worshipers in the Pakistani city of Quetta on Sunday morning, killing eight people and wounding several others.
Pakistani authorities said that among the eight dead, two were women. Several of the wounded were reported to be in serious condition.
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Police said the attack could have been much worse had they not successfully shot and killed one of the attackers before they could detonate the bomb. However, the second assailant managed to reach the entrance to the church where he blew himself up.
At least 400 worshipers were inside the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church at the time of the attack. Officials said the attendance was much higher than usual because of Christmas being just a week away.
The attack on Christians was an attempt to "cloud Christmas celebrations" and "create religious cleavages," Pakistan's army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa said in a statement.
Bajwa praised the "commendable" actions of law enforcement agencies and emergency services after the attack.
Militants targeting Christian minority
IS' semi-official news agency, Amaq, later claimed IS members had carried out the attack.
Hours after the blast, unconfirmed reports began to circulate that four assailants had been involved in the attack, with two escaping. Police said they were searching for further suspects and analyzing CCTV footage to check the claims.
Pakistan's Balochistan province, where Quetta is located, shares its borders with both Iran and Afghanistan. The region has been the scene of several deadly attacks in recent years, including the killing of Shiite Muslims by Sunni extremists. It has also seen an insurgency by nationalist groups seeking to separate from the rest of Pakistan.
Pakistan's Christian community, which makes up around 1.6 percent of the country's 200 million people, has long accused the government of discrimination and failure to provide sufficient security.
Following Sunday's blast, dozens of Christians protested outside the hospital in Quetta, as well as in the northwestern city of Peshawar, urging officials to protect religious minorities.
dm/tj (dpa, AFP, AP)