Peshawar, Pakistan — A pair of suicide bombers targeted a popular church in Pakistan on Sunday, killing at least 78 people and wounding dozens more.
The attack was the deadliest one on Christians in the mostly Muslim country. Two suicide bombers detonated their explosives after Sunday Mass outside the 130-year-old white-stone All Saints Church in Peshawar.
CBS News reports that the bombing was likely carried out by Taliban militants. The Taliban-linked militant group TTP Jundullah claimed responsibility hours after the attack happened.
An unnamed Pakistani intelligence official stated that Sunday’s suicide bombing came after warnings of a major terrorist incident. The attack was reportedly being planned by the “lashkar-e-jhangvi” (LeJ) a hard-line Sunni Muslim militant group loyal to the Taliban and al Qaeda.
Reuters notes that Sunday’s suicide bombing is part of an increase in Islamist violence in Pakistan the past few months. The violence is undermining Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s efforts to tame the insurgency.
Sharif toughened his stance against the violence, but still declined to call for outright military action against insurgents in the tribal areas near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. The prime minister commented on television after the attack, saying:
“Such incidents are not conducive of peace talks. Unfortunately, because of this, the government is unable to move forward on what it had envisaged, on what it had wished for.”
Sharif has tried to stop the insurgency by holding peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban. From Sunday’s church suicide bombing, it appears the talks are not doing their job.
Victims of the suicide bombing included 34 women and seven children, according to Interior Minister Chaundhry Nisar Ali Khan. Nisar also asked, “Who are these terrorists killing women and children?”
Attacks on Christians happen sporadically in Pakistan, but Sunday’s assault was the most violence in recent years. Some residents outraged by the attack and lack of adequate security at the old church took to the streets in protest. They burned tires and shouted slogans.
Shops closed in the Kohati Gate area of Peshawar, where several other churches are located. Protests by Christians for Sunday’s church suicide bombing happened around the country in places like Moltan and Karachi.