Anguished Pakistanis protesting suicide attacks on two Christian churches clashed with police and other residents in chaotic scenes in the city of Lahore on Monday, leaving one person dead and several others injured, police said.
The mainly Christian demonstrators hurled stones, damaged cars and blocked a major highway in the eastern city as helmeted riot police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowds.
The protests followed twin suicide attacks at two churches during Sunday services that killed 15 people and wounded more than 70 others. The Pakistani Taliban militant organization, which is at war with the Pakistani state, claimed responsibility in the latest in a series of deadly assaults against religious minorities.
Following the bombings, a mob reportedly dragged away two suspects being held by police and lynched them. One of the victims was identified Monday as Naeem Saleem, a glass-cutter whose brother said had played no role in the blasts, Pakistani media reported.
Protests also flared Monday in the cities of Faisalabad and Gujranwala, but the largest crowds were in the Lahore neighborhood of Youhanabad, home to more than 100,000 Christians. At one point, according to residents, a mob attacked a mosque and an Islamic religious school, prompting a large crowd of Muslims to take to the streets and pelt the Christian protesters with stones before police intervened.
“This could have turned the situation worse,” said Pervaiz Khokhar, a Muslim living in Lahore. “Both Muslims and Christians were charged and ready to kill.”
At one point, a woman driving a car was attacked by a mob that tore her clothes, Khokhar said. The alarmed woman collided with protesters, killing one and injuring two others.
Sectarian tensions have been building in Pakistan, where minority Shiite Muslims have also been victims of deadly attacks by militant groups across the country in recent months. Christians, who are believed to number about 2.5 million in Pakistan, or less than 2% of the population, have seen more than two dozen churches destroyed and hundreds of homes destroyed.
Christian leaders say the perpetrators are never brought to justice, breeding frustration and resentment.
“Insecurity among minorities has reached its peak in Pakistan,” said Peter Jacob, executive director of the Center for Social Justice, a Lahore-based organization. "It seems anger has turned into trauma for minorities. All these protesters today were carrying the baggage of trauma.”
Special correspondent Sahi reported from Islamabad and Times staff writer Bengali from New Delhi.
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