The deadly Easter Sunday attack by a suicide bomber in Pakistan has sent fears soaring of an expanding war on Christianity globally, even as the radical Islamic group behind the strike warned that more assaults on believers were in the works.
“We carried out the Lahore attack as Christians are our target,” Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesman for Taliban faction Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, told Agence Press-France by telephone on Monday, adding that additional attacks on schools and colleges are planned.
Andrew T. Walther, vice president of communications for the Knights of Columbus, which has warned of a “genocide” targeting Christian communities in the Islamic world, said the slaughter of adults and children during the Easter celebration “highlights that Christians, especially in countries where they are a small minority, are often targeted.”
“And, as a whole, Christians are the most persecuted religious group in today’s world,” said Mr. Walther, citing a recent Pew Research Center study examining violence targeting religious groups.
The White House and State Department came under fire Monday for failing to mention in statements condemning the Pakistan violence that the victims gathered at the park in Lahore, Pakistan, were singled out for their Christian faith, drawing a fresh round of criticism.
Pakistani nuns hold candles during a vigil for victims of Sunday’s deadly suicide bombing in in Lahore, Pakistan. (Associated Press)
Pakistani nuns hold candles during a vigil for victims of Sunday’s deadly … more >
“This was a very targeted attack of a known Christian population, and of course it was Easter Sunday,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of American Center for Law and Justice, which operates an office in Lahore.
“I’m very disappointed that the State Department not only did not call it Islamic jihadism, but would not acknowledge that this was a targeted attack against Christians, which the perpetrators have acknowledged,” Mr. Sekulow said. “I think we’ve got to start saying exactly what this is.”
In Pakistan the army launched raids Monday and rounded up suspects in Lahore and other major cities in the Punjab province, including Faisalabad and Multan. An army spokesman said on Twitter that a number of suspected “terrorists and facilitators” were arrested, and that a “huge cache of arms and ammunition” was recovered.
“Terrorists cannot dent our resolve. Our struggle will continue until the complete elimination of the menace of terrorism,” said Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in an emotional televised address.
While the attack was aimed at members of Pakistan’s tiny Christian minority, who make up just 1.6 percent of the population, a large number of the victims were Muslim, according to Pakistani authorities.
Pope Francis, who has championed Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere persecuted by Islamic extremists, denounced the attack Monday as a “cowardly and senseless crime” and called on authorities to protect “in particular, the most vulnerable religious minorities.”
“Easter Sunday was bloodied by an abominable attack that massacred so many innocent people, for the most part families of the Christian minority, especially women and children, gathered in a public park to joyfully pass the Easter holiday,” the pope told those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
The Obama administration’s reluctance to condemn specifically the targeting of Pakistani Christians comes a week after Secretary of State John F. Kerry drew cheers from religious liberty groups by declaring that Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, “is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians and Shia Muslims.”
In a statement Monday, however, State Department spokesman John Kirby condemned the “appalling attack” that “targeted innocent civilians in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park,” but failed to mention the connection between the attack by Islamic extremists and Easter celebrations.