One person killed, 12 other injured in Lahore riots following attacks in Youhanabad colony.
Thousands of Christians rioted in the Lahore on Monday, smashing property and vehicles as they clashed with police in a second day of protests against twin Taliban suicide bombings of churches that left 17 dead.
Sunday’s attacks in the Youhanabad neighborhood sparked mob violence in which two other suspected militants were killed, with Christians smashing up cars and a bus station. Protesters again turned violent on Monday, despite the presence of 1,000 police officers, who fired water cannons in an effort to contain the rampaging crowds.
Muhammad Usman, a senior bureaucrat, said paramilitary Rangers forces were later called in to try to restore the peace.
Tariq Butt, a doctor at General Hospital, said one more person was killed and 12 injured after they were run over by a speeding car that was attempting to flee the riots. Police spokeswoman Nabila Ghazanfar said that a female suspect had been detained in connection with the incident.
The fresh violence comes after the death toll from Sunday’s bombings—the deadliest attack on Pakistan’s Christian community in more than a year—rose to 17 after three more died from their injuries, according to hospital officials. Demonstrators expressed their anger at the killings, many arming themselves with clubs while others carried giant crosses as they took to the streets of Youhanabad on Monday.
“We are on the roads to get justice, we want protection,” said Maqbool Bhatti, a 50-year-old government employee who criticized the authorities for failing to take adequate security measures to safeguard Christians. “There was no proper security on Sunday, the government should protect all churches,” he said.
Christian volunteers meanwhile established their own security checkpoints, tying ropes across the roads leading into Youhanabad and patting down worshippers who had come to offer prayers for the dead ahead of funerals planned for Tuesday. Some carried placards with slogans such as “Why do you kill us?,” “Stop killing Christians,” and “Let us live.”
Protests were also held in Karachi, while special prayers were planned at churches throughout the country and Christian groups and members of civil society held candle-lit vigils.
Christians, who make up around two percent of Pakistan’s mostly Muslim population of 180 million, have been targeted in recent years, often over allegations of profanity regarding the Quran or Islam’s Prophet.
Washington “strongly” condemned Sunday’s attack, saying it supported the right to practice religion without fear. “The United States stands in solidarity with the people and government of Pakistan in confronting this type of extremist violence,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said the Taliban had turned their attention on places of worship and other “soft targets” because ongoing military operations had hampered their ability to fight the Army. “Due to military operation the noose has been tightening around militants and now it has significantly contained them,” he told a committee. “They are now hitting the softest targets like churches, mosques and schools. It shows their frustration.”