On 22nd September a double suicide attack against the all Saints Church in Peshawar claimed the lives of more than 100 worshippers. Around 600 people had attended the Sunday morning service and were leaving to receive food being distributed on the lawn outside when two explosions ripped through the crowd.
Hours after the blast, two of GHRD's local partners, Human Rights Focus Pakistan (HRFP) and Christians True Spirit (CTS), were on the scene and conducted a thorough fact-finding. According to the church authorities and HRFP's investigation, around 127 Christian worshippers were killed and 250 were injured. According to HRFP, at around 11.35am, two individuals wearing suicide vests entered the Church premises from the main gate. One of the bombers first launched a hand grenade and fired at the crowd before detonating the bomb. The second blast occurred inside the Church gate. Police officials stated that each vest contained an estimated six kilograms of explosives. The CTS Team interviewed witnesses, police officers and family members of victims and provided financial assistance with hospital and medical expenses for a few of the families.
Asher Sarfaz of CTS reported that there was inadequate emergency medical care available at the scene. Nearby hospitals, to which the injured were moved, lacked sufficient facilities and treatments. The scarcity of doctors meant injured patients waited for up to 3-4 hours without treatment, and many died due to lack of oxygen supplies, such as masks. According to Sarfaz the fact that big government hospitals lack such basic equipment was 'surprising', particularly given that they have "much experience of the volatile situation of the area and deals with similar emergencies regularly".
Naveed Walter of HRFP reports that the Church authorities had requested "fully-fledged security at least on the Sunday Prayers at Churches, but the Government was reluctant to ensure the security".
A militant group belonging to the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. The same group has previously claimed responsibility for killing 10 foreign climbers in Gilgit-Baltistan and for an attack on an Inter-Services Intelligence compound in Sukkur.
The newly elected Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, has been initiating peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban aimed at ending a decade of violence and finally an all-parties political conference held last September gave the government approval to start negotiations with the insurgents. After this latest incident questions were again raised about the government's plans to hold peace talks. Hundreds of Christians and activists from civil society groups protested in Lahore after the attack in Peshawar. They blocked roads as they condemned the violence.
The press conference of HRFP after the fact-finding with Mr. Naveed Walter in Faisalabad.
The September attack on All Saints Church underscores the fragility of religious freedom in Pakistan. The extremist groups are responsible for threats and violence against religious minorities in Pakistan, as well as against the Sunni majority who dares to challenge their interpretations of Islamic law.
HRFP interviewed 24 individuals, the 2 eye witnesses, 6 family members of killed persons, 10 injured victims at Lady Reading Hospital, Peshawar during their fact-finding.