PAKISTAN

Mob lynching follows attack on Lahore's Christians

A double suicide attack targeted worshippers leaving Mass on Sunday in Lahore's Youhanabad area. The deadly bombings were instantly followed by gruesome mob reprisals: two men suspected of being terrorists were lynched by a crowd in broad daylight. Our Observer says he feels helpless amid the spiralling violence.

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A mob lynches two men in a Christian neighbourhood of Lahore, following a suicide attack. In the middle of the photo, the two bodies on fire. Photo published on Twitter by Safya77.

A double suicide attack targeted worshippers leaving Mass on Sunday in Lahore's Youhanabad area. The deadly bombings were instantly followed by gruesome mob reprisals: two men suspected of being terrorists were lynched by a crowd in broad daylight. Our Observer says he feels helpless amid the spiralling violence.

At least 17 people were killed in the double blast. The attacks – the bloodiest targeting the country’s Christians in 18 months – were led by a pair of Taliban suicide bombers who targeted two churches. After two days of rioting, funerals took place for the victims on Tuesday.

"The crowd was out of control, it was terrifying"

Zafar (not his real name) is a student and the son of a priest. He lives with his family just opposite one of the churches that was hit by a bomber.

 

At 11:15, just before the end of Mass, we heard the first explosion. Then we heard screaming. It was terrifying – we looked out the window, and on the street people were crying and screaming. A few minutes later, the sound of another explosion rung out. We ran outside and discovered a scene of horror. Body parts were strewn across the ground. There were bodies everywhere. We decided to film at random anything that we could see.

 

Screen grab from a video filmed by our Observer, just after the attack. 

From witnesses, we learnt that the assailants had arrived on a motorbike. The driver carried the explosives and the second attacker carried weapons. The latter fired first in the direction of the church's closed door. Worshippers began fleeing. At that moment the driver tried to approach the church to blow himself up, but a security guard jumped on him to push him back. It was a 16-year-old youth called Akach, who we knew. For a long time he kept telling his parents that he wanted to become a security guard to protect the church. He died along with the suicide bomber in the blast.

On that day, there had been a heightened level of security in force because Ireland was playing Pakistan in the cricket World Cup. But the Taliban took advantage of the fact that the police were watching the game to attack. It was very well organised.

The same morning, another suicide bomber targeted another church in the same neighbourhood, and there was another blast. A few hours later, residents spilled out onto the streets to vent their anger. Some had even come all the way from neighbouring cities.

"We also went to protest but the atmosphere was so tense that me and my close friends decided to get away from the crowd. Then we followed the events on a local television channel. That's when we saw that two men had been lynched by the furious crowd. They had been questioned by police while attempting to leave the area on a motorbike and had been taken away in a van. But the crowd, fearful that they may be released, grabbed them from the van. The police tried to resist but the crowd was too big. Then they were burned [Editor's note: It's not possible to establish whether or not the two men were killed prior to being burned]. For me, the police officers are partly responsible. They were over-zealous in arresting these two men. They thought that it would calm the crowd but it had the opposite effect and things quickly got out of hand.

The scene of the lynching. In the middle of the photo, the two victims' bodies are on fire. Photo posted on Twitter by Safya77.

 

The men had beards and were riding a motorbike. That's all the proof the mob needed to decide that they must have been members of the Taliban. There were loads of youths completely out of control. It was terrifying. The next day, an important congregation of Christians wanted to organise their own protest.

Demonstrators brandished crosses and waved banners denouncing the bloody attacks repeatedly carried out against Pakistan's Christian community. Despite the demonstration being better supervised, clashes still broke out between protesters and police. Two people were also killed after they were knocked over by a panicked driver on the fringes of the demonstration.

 

Protest in Lahore after the attacks.

Officials in Punjab, the state of which Lahore is the capital, have opened an investigation to identify those who participated in the lynching, which was caught on camera by a Pakistani TV channel. One of the victims has been identified as Naeem Saleem, a glazier who had just finished his work shift in the neighbourhood and whose family say has no links with the Taliban. Yet it wasn't long before a sadly predictable revenge attack was carried out.

 

This Tuesday, another church in Kasur was attacked. Information has reached us saying that it was a revenge attack for the lynchings. As soon as police roadblocks in our neighbourhood were lifted, we decided to leave the area for another place some 30 minutes from here. Other people followed us. We all want to leave before something else serious happens again.

Pakistan's Christians make up roughly 2% of the population in a country of 200 million people, most of whom are Muslim.