LAHORE, Pakistan – Pakistan’s minority Christians blocked roads Monday in protest over a pair of Taliban suicide bombings that struck two churches the day before, killing 15 people in the latest attack against religious minorities in this increasingly fractured country.
Authorities said all Christian schools would remain closed as prayer services and funerals for the victims get underway later Monday, said Pakistani shipping and ports minister and Christian community leader Kamran Michael.
He appealed on fellow Christians to remain peaceful.
Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan denounced the twin church attacks as an “inhuman act of terrorism” and said it also reflects the militants “frustration” in the face of a stepped-up military operation against them. Last June, Pakistan launched a major operation to rout militants from their strongholds and has claimed success in the offensive.
“We have shrunk the space for them to operate,” Khan said Monday.
Sunday’s bombings in the eastern city of Lahore struck in quick succession in the Christian neighbourhood of Youhanabad during morning services. The bombers detonated their suicide vests outside the two churches, which are located about 600 metres apart. At least 70 people were wounded in the attacks.
After the attacks, angry Christian mobs blocked the highway, ransacked bus terminals and burned two people to death who they suspected of being involved in the attacks.
On Monday, Christians blocked roads in the eastern cities of Lahore, Faisalabad, Sargodha and Gujranwala. In Lahore, the demonstration forced public transport services to shut down. Protesters were also blocking a major highway that runs near the two attacked churches and prevented cars from driving by, said police officer Bilal Ahmad.
Life in Pakistan is increasingly dangerous for religious minorities. They have been targeted by extremist Sunni Muslim militants and are also discriminated against in the wider society, where they are often limited to menial jobs like garbage collection.
Much of the country is already on edge after years of militant violence, including an attack on a Peshawar school in December that killed 150 people – mostly students.
The Pakistani Taliban group, which claimed responsibility for the church attacks, has been waging an insurgency for over a decade, seeking to overthrow the government and install their own brand of harsh Islamic rule. Thousands of Pakistanis have been killed in the attacks.