By BosNewsLife Asia Service
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- The militant Islamic State group claimed responsibility Sunday, December 18, for the suicide attack that rocked a packed evangelical church in Pakistan's city of Quetta, killing nine people and injuring about 60 others, including women and children.
Two suicide attackers stormed the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church located on Quetta’s Zarghoon Road in the restive southwestern Baluchistan province, officials, and Christians confirmed.
Police guards stationed at the church entrance and on its roof killed one of the bombers, but the second attacker detonated his suicide vest outside its prayer hall just after Sunday services began, said Baluchistan Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti in published remarks.
Officials said the death toll could have been much higher if the gunmen had forced their way into the church building. Moazzam Jah, the local police chief, told reporters that there were nearly 400 worshippers in the church for the pre-Christmas service.
Hospital spokesman Waseem Baig told media that the death toll had risen to nine and that 42 people were rushed to Civil Hospital Quetta and the Combined Military Hospital. Pakistani security officials said the two attackers — between 16 and 20 years of age — had strapped 15 kilograms of explosives to their bodies.
Ambulances and security patrols could be seen racing to the scene, while women and children were escorted out of the church’s main gate. Reporters saw broken wooden benches, shards of glass and musical instruments scattered around a Christmas tree inside the prayer hall that was splashed with blood stains.
Soon after the blast, Pakistani officials reportedly stepped up security across Pakistan, but the violence underscored concerns among minority Christians about growing Islamic extremism in the Asian nation.
Christians comprise at least 2 percent of the country’s mainly Muslim population of about 198 million. Most Christians are marginalized and perform menial jobs, according to rights activists.
Pakistan's government has denied that Islamic State has an organized presence in the country, though the terrorist group claimed responsibility for several other attacks in Baluchistan in recent years.
“Law enforcement agencies have badly failed in protecting common citizens, and minorities in particular,” said Shamaun Alfred Gill, a Christian political and social activist based in Islamabad. “December is a month of Christian religious rituals," he told The New York Times newspaper. "We had demanded the government beef up security for churches all over the country. But they have failed to do so.”