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At Least 80 Killed As Suicide Blasts Rock Peshawar Church


A man cries over the death of his brother at the site of a suicide blast at a church in Peshawar on September 22.
A man cries over the death of his brother at the site of a suicide blast at a church in Peshawar on September 22.
PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Pakistani officials say an explosion outside a Christian church in the northwestern city of Peshawar has killed at least 81 people.

That number may be set to grow, with federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan saying 10 out of more than 100 wounded were in critical condition.

The attack took place when two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the All Saints Church in the Kohati Gate neighborhood. Some reports say that two police officers are among the dead.

It is the deadliest attack targeting Christians in Pakistan in many years.

Peshawar Deputy Commissioner Zaheerul Islam briefed journalists following the attack.

"This is a suicide attack. The suicide bombers entered the church when the Christians were ending their Sunday service. There were around 600 people in the church at that moment," he said.

Pakistan television showed images of ambulances rushing the wounded to hospitals and of relatives and locals gathering outside the church.

WATCH: People search for relatives at local hospital after Peshawar church explosion.
Pakistanis Search For Relatives At Local Hospital After Peshawar Church Explosion
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A witness told the AFP news agency that he was thrown to the floor by a "huge blast" that was soon followed by a second one. "I saw wounded people everywhere," 50-year-old Nazir Khan was quoted as saying.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack, saying "targeting innocent people is against the teachings of Islam and all religions."

Christians 'Hopeless And Helpless'

Speaking to RFE/RL, regional Information Minister Shah Farman said the attack should not be allowed to derail the country's peace process with Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, the Pakistani Taliban.

"It's a tragic incident, but overall, these kinds of incidents have decreased," Farman said. "There is a peace process going on. We don't want this process to be derailed. We're waiting for the results of the final investigation to see who did this and why."

Christians make up about 4 percent of Pakistan's population. They generally maintain a low profile, but are sometimes targeted by Islamist extremists who view them as heretics.

In 2009, a mob in the town of Gojra burned houses and a church and killed seven Christians amid rumors that Christians had desecrated a copy of the Koran, the Islamic holy book.

Christians are also occasionally prosecuted under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws.

Martin Javed Miachal told RFE/RL that the government had failed to protect Christians.

"We Christians are hopeless and helpless," he said. "Our future is very dark. We have been treated like second-class citizens. We have been discriminated against for a long time. Now our churches and our people are not safe."

Miachal blamed extremists for not giving Christians the right to live in the country. "If it continues like this, more Christians will immigrate from Pakistan," he said.

International human rights organizations list Pakistan as among the most dangerous countries in the world for minorities.

Peshawar is the capital of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

With reporting by AP, dpa, and AFP

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