At least 13 people were killed and dozens wounded Friday in a pair of suicide bombings targeting a Christian residential area and a judicial complex in northern Pakistan, rescue officials said.
Four militants wearing suicide vests and armed with semiautomatic weapons struck a residential colony populated by Christian families on the outskirts of the city of Peshawar, next to a security base, said Col. Naeem Ullah, commandant of the paramilitary Frontier Corps at the base.
A security guard reportedly fired on the assailants and was killed, but residents said his quick response – and that of Pakistani security forces – helped avert greater carnage, according to accounts by Christian community groups.
Hours later in Mardan, about 25 miles east of Peshawar, a suicide bomber lobbed a hand grenade at a police officer guarding the main gate of a courthouse and then set off a suicide bomb. The deafening explosion killed or wounded dozens of lawyers and litigants who were at the complex on court business, officials said.
Bilal Jalal, a spokesman for the city rescue service, said 12 bodies were retrieved from the site of the blast and that 51 people had been wounded, many of them critically.
“The death toll could rise further,” Jalal said, adding that rescue teams had been dispatched from Peshawar and a state of emergency had been declared in all hospitals in Mardan.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban militant federation, claimed responsibility for both attacks in messages to the news media.
The group has claimed responsibility for several large attacks in Pakistan in recent months, including a suicide bombing at a hospital in Quetta last month that killed 64 people — most of them lawyers — and the bombing of a Lahore park on Easter that left 72 dead. The Islamic State militant group also claimed responsibility for the hospital bombing.
Christians form a small, largely working-class minority in mainly Muslim Pakistan, accounting for less than 2% of the country’s nearly 200 million people. They have frequently been the target of attacks as Pakistan battles an array of militant groups aiming to bring down the state.
The Christian colony of Warsak Dam, which comprises 25 homes, is about four miles from the Army Public School, where 144 people, mostly children, were killed in a December 2014 attack.
Pakistani Christian groups said the attackers entered a church about 6 a.m. but found it empty except for the guard, a Christian man, who alerted security forces. The assailants shot and killed him but other guards rushed to the spot, exchanging fire with the assailants, Ullah said.
The attackers took cover in a nearby building that was under construction before detonating their suicide vests inside the compound, Ullah said. Police officers and the paramilitary Frontier Corps responded to the attack.
Lt. Col. Asim Bajwa, spokesman for the Pakistani military, praised the security forces for “defeating the terrorists’ attempt.”
Pakistani Christian leaders also praised the response while noting the vulnerability of their community.
“The fact that Christians are so often the target in terrorists’ plots is starting [to] register and security strategies have improved as a consequence,” Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Assn., said in a statement.
“Even then something has to be done to exterminate both the [extremist groups] and the pervading hatred for minorities among the general populace, that together make life for Pakistani Christians and other minorities in Pakistan untenable.”
Special correspondent Ali reported from Peshawar and staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.
7:40 a.m.: This article was updated with Times reporting and a revised death toll.
12:20 a.m.: This article was updated with details and background.
This article was originally posted at 11:55 p.m.