PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Two suicide bombers killed at least 78 worshipers among hundreds at a historic church in northwestern Pakistan on Sunday in the deadliest-ever attack against the country’s Christian minority.
A wing of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing, raising new questions about the government’s push to strike a peace deal with the militants to end a decade-long insurgency that has slain thousands of people.
The Jundullah arm of the Taliban said it would continue to target non-Muslims until the United States stops drone attacks in Pakistan’s remote tribal region.
The latest drone strike occurred Sunday, when missiles hit a pair of compounds in the North Waziristan tribal area, killing six suspected militants.
The attack on the All Saints Church, which injured 141 people, occurred as worshipers were leaving after services to get a free meal of rice offered on the front lawn, said a top government administrator, Sahibzada Anees.
“There were blasts and there was hell for all of us,” said Nazir John, who was at the church in the city’s Kohati Gate district along with at least 400 other worshipers. “When I got my senses back, I found nothing but smoke, dust, blood, and screaming people. I saw severed body parts and blood all around.” Survivors wailed and hugged one another in the wake of the blasts.
The white walls of the church, which opened in the late 1800s, were pockmarked with holes caused by ball bearings contained in the bombs to cause maximum damage. Blood stained the floor and the walls.
The 78 dead included 34 women and seven children, said Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. Another 37 children were among the 141 injured, he said.
The number of casualties from the blasts was so high that the hospital ran short of caskets for the dead and beds for the wounded, said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, a former information minister of surrounding Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, who was on the scene.
“This is the deadliest attack against Christians in our country,” said Irfan Jamil, the bishop of the eastern city of Lahore.
Ahmad Marwat, who identified himself as the spokesman for the Jundullah wing of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack.
“All non-Muslims in Pakistan are our target, and they will remain our target as long as America fails to stop drone strikes in our country,” Marwat said by telephone from an undisclosed location.
The bishop in Peshawar, Sarfarz Hemphray, announced a three-day mourning period and blamed the government and security agencies for failing to protect the country’s Christians.
Hundreds of Christians burned tires in the street in the southern city of Karachi to protest the bombing.
“The terrorists have no religion and targeting innocent people is against the teachings of Islam and all religions,” Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in condemning the attack.