PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A suicide bomb attack on a historic church in northwestern Pakistan killed at least 52 people and wounded over 100 Sunday, officials said, in one of the worst assaults on the country’s Christian minority in years.
The bombing underlines the threat posed by Islamic extremists as the government seeks a peace deal with domestic Taliban militants.
It occurred as worshippers were coming out of the church in Peshawar city following services to get a free meal of rice offered on the front lawn, said a top government administrator, Sahibzada Anees.
It was not immediately clear whether one or two suicide bombers carried out the attack.
Witnesses said they heard two blasts, the second more powerful than the first. One police officer, Zahir Shah, said he believed both blasts were caused by suicide bombers.
The dead included several women and children, said Sher Ali Khan, a doctor at a hospital in Peshawar where the victims were being treated.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion will likely fall on one of the country’s many Islamic militant groups. Islamic militants have been blamed for previous attacks on the Muslim country’s Christian minority, as well as Muslim groups they consider heretics.
Islamic militants have carried out dozens of attacks across the country since Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took office in June, even though he has made clear that he believes a peace deal with the largest group, the Taliban, is the best way to tamp down violence in the country.
Pakistan’s major political parties endorsed Sharif’s call for negotiations earlier this month. But the Taliban have said that the government must release militant prisoners and begin pulling troops out of the northwest tribal region that serves as their sanctuary before they will begin talks.