The death toll has climbed to 65 after a suicide bomber attacked a busy park in Lahore, Pakistan, where Christians were celebrating Easter. Most of the dead are children, officials said. The devastating attack was near the children’s rides at the Gulshan-e-Iqbal park, The Associated Press reported. Over 300 people are injured, a spokesman for Lahore rescue administration said, according to The AP. Ahsanullah Ahsan, a spokesman for the terrorist group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, told The AP that a suicide bomber from the group targeted the Christian community and warned that more attacks would follow. The U.S. State Department condemned the terrorist attack calling it a “cowardly act” that “targeted innocent civilians.” “The United States stands with the people and Government of Pakistan at this difficult hour. We send our deepest condolences to the loved ones of those killed and injured, and our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Lahore as they respond to and recover from this terrible tragedy,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said.
The Taliban faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the attack. “The target was Christians,” a spokesman for the faction, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said. “We want to send this message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered Lahore.” “He can do what he wants but he won’t be able to stop us. Our suicide bombers will continue these attacks.” Islamist militants in Pakistan have attacked Christians and other religious minorities often over the past decade. Many Christians accuse the government of doing little to protect them, saying politicians are quick to offer condolences after an attack but slow to take any concrete steps to improve security.
UPDATE: The Vatican has now issued a response. From Vatican Radio:
The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, called the Easter attack in Lahore, Pakistan, an act of “cowardly murderous hatred” perpetrated on the “most defenseless,” adding it “casts a shadow of sadness and anguish on the feast of Easter.” Over 70 people were killed by a bomb at a public park where families belonging to the country’s small Christian minority had gathered to celebrate the Easter holiday. The Jamat-ul-Ahrar faction of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, and vowed more would follow. “With the Pope … we pray for the victims, we are close to the wounded, to the affected families, to their immense pain, to the members of Christian minority who once again have been hit by fanatical violence, and to the entire wounded Pakistani people,” Father Lombardi said. “As the Pope stated Easter morning, despite the continuation of these horrible manifestations of hatred, the crucified and risen Lord continues to give us the courage and hope needed to build paths of compassion, and solidarity, and with those who suffer, paths of dialogue, justice, reconciliation and peace,” concluded the Vatican spokesman.
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