9 killed in ‘IS’ attack on Methodist church in Pakistan

At least nine people, including two women, were killed and over 50 injured in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province when two suspected Islamic State (IS) terrorists attacked a church where some 400 people were attending Sunday mass ahead of Christmas.

The assailants’ plan to carry out a major strike was foiled by police by preventing them from entering the prayer hall. One of them was shot dead near the entrance to the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta. The other bomber, who reached the main door of the prayer hall, was stopped by a hail of bullets forcing him to blow himself up.

ISIS Khorasan, the IS affiliate operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the attack without providing any evidence for its claim.

Quetta police is hunting for two suspected accomplices who escaped the crime scene.

Baluchistan Police Chief Moazzam Ansari praised the security forces guarding the church for eliminating one of the attackers. He said the church had been targeted by militants in the past. With Christmas just days away, security had been beefed up at the shrine.

Sarfaraz Bugti, interior minister of Baluchistan province, too hailed police for their alertness and quick response. Although the two attackers stormed the church breaking the security ring, only one could detonate his vest while the second attacker was shot dead before he could do so, he said.

While terrorists of various hues in Sunni majority Pakistan usually target Shia and Sufi shrines, educational institutions, hospitals and churches too are attacked to gain wider attention. A suicide attack on a church in Lahore killed 14 people in March 2015 while a similar attack in Peshawar left 80 dead in 2013. In August last year, a suicide bombing at a Quetta hospital claimed by IS killed 73 people, including many lawyers who had gone there to mourn the fatal shooting of a colleague.

In the worst attack on children for years, Taliban gunmen attacked a military-run school in Peshawar in 2014 and killed 141 people, most of them students.  Eighteen people were killed this month in a suicide bombing at a Sufi shrine in Baluchistan. Over 70 people were killed in another bomb attack at a shrine in Sehwan, Sindh province.

In Baluchistan province, where the latest church attack took place, various insurgent groups are fighting for a share of the region’s rich resources. Home to 13 million people, most of them Baluchis, the region remains backward, neglected and discriminated against. Whenever people revolt, Pakistani Army uses brute force to retain order, Baluchis say. They argue why their mineral rich region remains impoverished. They also oppose the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which will serve them in no way and only damage the environment.