"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Monday, March 28, 2016

Worst fears come true for Pakistan's Christians in Easter attack

The Lahore park where the suicide attack was carried out.
The Lahore park where the suicide attack was carried out.
The worst fears of Pakistan's Christians came true with the carnage in Lahore on Easter Sunday, said activists who had braced for a backlash since thousands took to the streets over the execution of a murderer feted as an Islamist hero.

Taliban militants said they were targeting Christians with the suicide bombing which killed at least 72 people, nearly half of them children, in a crowded park in Lahore as thousands marked Easter on a warm spring evening.

Christian leaders said they had been filled with foreboding ever since the government executed Mumtaz Qadri, who murdered a liberal governor calling for reform of the country's blasphemy laws.

Their fears grew when Islamists announced on Friday that they would hold prayers for Qadri over the Easter weekend, four weeks after his hanging.

"The Christian community had the feeling that there would be backlash from Qadri's execution, especially on festivals like Easter," said Shamoon Gill, a Christian activist and spokesman for the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance.

"We feared that something might happen."

The Taliban did not mention Qadri in their claim of responsibility.

But the attack came as thousands of his supporters clashed with police in Islamabad, several hundred kilometres away, with activists attacking the government's apparent tolerance of the demonstrators.

"People are calling for an assassin to be declared a hero and the government is giving them space," said Cecil Shane Chaudhry, executive director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, a Christian NGO.


Sunday's blast was the latest in the "long history of persecution of Christians in the country", leading human rights activist Hussain Naqi told AFP Monday.

In Rome, Pope Francis appealed to Pakistani authorities to step up security for religious minorities after the "abhorrent" suicide bombing.

Christians are frequently the target of militant attacks, including a double suicide bombing that killed 82 people at a church service in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar in 2013.

They also often face discrimination at work and routinely fall victim to the blasphemy laws, which rights groups say are often used to wage personal vendettas.

Blasphemy can carry the death penalty in Pakistan and is a hugely sensitive issue in the Muslim nation of around 200 million.

Even unproven allegations can stir mob violence. Christians, who make up 1.6 % of the population, are often the target.

"We are teaching our kids a distorted, rather false history where the mullah is pious and the minorities are evil, and this is a very dangerous trend," Naqi said.

"It's not only with Christians, we are doing the same with Hindus and Ahmadis and that's why they take every possible step -- either legal or illegal -- to leave the country."

Chaudhry agreed.

"There is a growing sense of insecurity among minorities in Pakistan, and whoever is not a Muslim is not safe in this country," he said.

Activists pointed to officials who appeared to dismiss the militants' statement they were targeting Christians, accusing them of downplaying the threat.

"The target was not the Christian community in particular," senior police official Haider Ashraf told AFP Monday despite the Taliban statement, adding that Muslims were among the dead.

Naqi branded the statement a "cover-up" and said the government was in denial, "trying to downplay the incident to hide its own failure at protecting Christians and minorities".

On Monday around 3,000 of Qadri's supporters were still holding a sit-in near main government buildings in Islamabad.

Their demands include the execution of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother-of-five who has been on death row since she was convicted of blasphemy in 2010.

They are also calling for Qadri to be officially declared a martyr and want the immediate imposition of Sharia Islamic law.

"Didn't the government know what their demands would be? Why did the government not stop them?" asked Chaudhry.

Source: Daily Mail, March 28, 2016

29 children among 72 killed as Taliban blows himself up at a park in Pakistan

72 killed - including 29 children - as Taliban blows himself up at a Lahore park.
More than 70 people, including 29 children, have been killed by a Taliban suicide bomber who targeted Christians near a children's playground in a park in Pakistan.

Some 300 people were injured when explosives packed with ball bearings ripped through crowds near the children's swings in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, in Lahore, where many had gathered to celebrate Easter.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban, has claimed responsibility for the attack, adding: 'The target was Christians.'

Senior police official Haider Ashraf confirmed that the death toll had risen to 72 on Monday morning, adding the majority of the dead were Muslims.

The blast happened a few metres away from children's swings, and most of the victims are believed to be women and children.

Witnesses described children screaming as people carried the injured in their arms, while frantic relatives searched for loved ones.

The chief minister of Punjab province, Shahbaz Sharif, has announced three days mourning and pledged to ensure that those involved in the attack are brought to trial.

Nasreen Bibi, the mother of a two-year-old injured in the attack, spoke through tears as she waited for news from the doctors.

'We were just here to have a nice evening and enjoy the weather. May God shower his wrath upon these attackers. What kind of people target little children in a park?'

The group responsible for the attack was founded by Omar Khalid Korasani, a former Taliban senior leader who broke off from the main group to form the more-hardline organization in 2014.

He re-aligned with the main Pakistani Taliban leadership last year, and the group are currently waging war on the government, which in 2014 vowed to grant no safe haven to terrorists.

The attack happened in the heart of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif political base in Punjab.

In a statement, the group said: 'We claim responsibility for the attack on Christians as they were celebrating Easter.

'We want to send this message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered Lahore. He can do what he wants but he won't be able to stop us. Our suicide bombers will continue these attacks.'

The group was previously responsible for a March 2015 bombing at a Roman Catholic church in Lahore that killed 15 people and injured 70 others.

The army had been called in and soldiers were at the scene helping with rescue operations and security.

Police chief Haider Ashraf said. 'We are in a warlike situation and there is always a general threat but no specific threat alert was received for this place.'

Salman Rafiq, a health adviser to the Punjab government, called on people to donate blood, saying that many of those wounded were in a critical condition.

In 2014, Pakistan launched an offensive against Taliban and affiliated jihadist fighters in North Waziristan, seeking to deprive them of safe havens from which to launch attacks in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Punjab has traditionally been more peaceful than other parts of Pakistan. Sharif's opponents have accused him of tolerating militancy in return for peace in his province, a charge he strongly denies.

Last year, a bomb killed a popular Pakistani provincial minister and at least eight others when it destroyed the minister's home in Punjab

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Source: Mail Online, March 28, 2016

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