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Pakistan steps up security after IS kills 9 in church attack

December 18, 2017

A Christian woman mourns during the funeral of the victims of Sunday's suicide bombing attack on a church, in Quetta, Pakistan, Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. Pakistani security forces were on high alert across the country, following a suicide attack by the Islamic State group that targeted a church. (AP Photo/Arshad Butt)

QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani security forces were on high alert across the country on Monday after an Islamic State suicide attack on a church killed nine people, officials said.

The assault on Sunday in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, also wounded about 60 worshippers. It was the first attack on a church claimed by the IS affiliate in Pakistan.

A group funeral was held on Monday afternoon after a service by Bishop Sadiq Daniel at Quetta’s Christian cemetery. Ministers, government officials and members of civil society groups attended the service.

Victor John grieved for his disabled daughter Maryam, 17, who was taken from him by “these terrorists.” His daughter-in-law, Anita Bibi, was also at the church when the attack happened and said she tried to pull Maryam to the floor when the shooting started.

Then there was a loud boom, she recalled, and the hall was filled with smoke. “In a moment, the entire church turned into chaos,” she said.

Commemorations were held across the country. In Lahore, the capital of eastern Punjab province, Muslim and Christian leaders took part in joint special prayer services to remember the victims.

Baluchistan’s provincial police chief, Moazzam Ansari, said security forces were trying to find those who orchestrated the attack.

About 400 worshippers were attending the service when two bombers carrying assault rifles stormed the church, triggering a gunbattle in which one assailant was killed by police guards and the other opened fire at worshippers and detonated his explosive vest.

A statement posted on the IS-run Aamaq news agency said two “martyrdom-seeking fighters clad in explosive vests and carrying machine guns and hand grenades attacked the church.”

One of the attackers detonated his vest among the “Crusaders” while the other was killed while fighting “renegade Pakistani security forces,” it said.

IS has claimed several attacks in Pakistan in recent years, though Islamabad denies the group’s presence and claims it has no organized network in the country.

Prime Minister Shahif Khaqan Abbasi and army chief Gen. Qamer Javed Bajwa condemned the attack.

Naseem Masih, who was wounded in the assault, said one of the attackers reached the entrance of the prayer hall, where he opened fire before blowing himself up.

“We were praying when a bullet hit me,” Masih said.

It was the first time IS claimed an attack on a church in Pakistan, though other Muslim extremist groups have targeted churches in the past.

The deadliest previous attack on a church was in September 2013, when twin suicide bomb blasts killed 85 people in Peshawar. Jundullah, or Army of God, then a little-known militant group, claimed responsibility.

In March 2015, two suicide bombers attacked two churches in the eastern city of Lahore, killing 15 people. The Pakistani Taliban claimed that attack.

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Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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