By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- At least 63 people were killed and more than 300 others injured when a suicide bomber linked to an Islamic terror group blew himself up in a children's park in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan's Punjab province, where Christians celebrated Easter, officials and Christians said.
"The Pakistani Christian community was celebrating Easter when they were attacked at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore," late Sunday, March 27, said Sardar Mushtaq Gill, a Christian rights activist, in a statement to BosNewsLife. "The majority of victims are Christians," added Gill, who leads the Punjab-based advocacy group Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD).
Lahore Police Chief Haider Ashraf told media there was an unusual rush of people, in part due to Easter. Many Christians celebrating what they believe is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death were in the park, the official said.
A splinter group of the Islamic militant Pakistani Taliban, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar (TTP-JA), headed by Maulvi Omar Khalid Khurasani, claimed responsibility for the suicide attack in Lahore.
Police officials said they had recovered the body of the suicide bomber who was described as a man between 25 and 30 years old. The attack came amid mounting pressure on devoted Christians in several parts of the country, with many fleeing to Thailand and other nations, BosNewsLife learned.
Punjab Health Minister Salman Rafique declared an emergency in all the hospitals of Lahore city to better handle the injured. "We are in a state of emergency. All the hospitals are under emergency. All ambulances had been called to site of the blast as a large number of people, the majority of them women and children are injured," the health minister told reporters.
Television footage showed children and women crying and screaming and rescue officials, police and bystanders carrying injured people to ambulances and private cars.
Punjab Chief Minister, Shabaz Sharif later announced a three-day mourning in the province.
Besides the attack in Lahore, Gill told BosNewsLife there was "sad news" in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, where a rally was held of supporters of Mumtaz Qadri who was hanged to death last month for killing Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer.
Qadri was working as a bodyguard for Taseer when he shot and killed him in January 2011. He was reportedly unrepentant and said he acted because the governor advocated reform of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws.
Taseer supporters, Gill said, demanded that Christian woman Asia Bibi should be "condemned to be hanged to death". The jailed Bibi, a Christian mother of five, has appealed against a planned execution by hanging after she was convicted for "blasphemy".
Charges against the now 50-year-old Bibi originates from a dispute that took place in June 2009 between she and a group of Muslim women with whom she was harvesting berries in the town of Sheikhupura.
Muslims reportedly became angry when Bibi, a Christian whom they considered unclean, drank water from the same water bowl as the Muslim women.
An argument between Bibi and the Muslim women ensued and the Muslim women allegedly told a local cleric that Bibi had blasphemed against Islam by saying, "My Christ died [and rose from death] for me, what did [Prophet] Mohammed do for you?"
Christians had warned that the recent execution of Qadri, Pakistan’s most infamous death row prisoner, risks enraging conservatives who regard him as a hero who killed to defend the honour of Islam.
Gill told BosNewsLife he fears her and his life are in danger. He said he had asked Christians to "Please pray for Asia Bibi and her family and for us who are defenders of victims of the blasphemy laws."
The activist has faced death threats because of his human rights work, BosNewsLife reported earlier.
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