QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — Two suicide bombers struck a church in the Pakistani city of Quetta on Sunday killing nine people and wounding over 50 others, officials said, in the first attack on a church claimed by the country’s Islamic State group affiliate.
Sarfaraz Bugti, home minister for the southwestern Baluchistan province, said hundreds of worshippers were attending services at the church ahead of Christmas. He said the attackers clashed with security forces, with one assailant killed at the entrance while the other made it inside.
Baluchistan police chief Moazzam Ansari praised the response of security forces guarding the church, saying the attacker who made it inside was wounded and unable to reach the main building. “Otherwise the loss of lives could have been much higher,” he told reporters.
Quetta police chief Abdur Razzaq Cheema said a search is underway for two suspected accomplices who escaped.
Local television showed ambulances and security patrols racing to the scene while women and children were being led out of the church’s main gate.
The Islamic State group later claimed responsibility for the attack on their Aamaq news agency, saying two “plungers” from their group had stormed the church, without providing further details.
This is the first time the Islamic State group has claimed attack on a church in Pakistan though Muslims extremists them in the past. The deadliest was in September 2013, when twin suicide bomb blasts killed 85 people in a Peshawar church. In March 2015, two suicide bombers also attacked two churches in the eastern city of Lahore, killing 15 people.
Wasim Baig, a spokesman for Quetta’s main hospital, confirmed the attack’s toll, updating earlier accounts from officials. He said three women were among the dead while another four women and two children were among the wounded. Baig added that 57 people were wounded, of whom seven were in critical condition.
A young girl in a white dress sobbed as she recounted the attack to Geo television, saying many people around her were wounded.
Aqil Anjum, who was shot in his right arm, told The Associated Press he heard a blast in the middle of the service, followed by heavy gunfire. “It was chaos. Bullets were hitting people inside the closed hall.”
Dozens of Christians gathered outside a nearby hospital to protest the lack of security.
Pakistan’s president and other senior officials condemned the attack.