ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A faction of the Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for killing at least 70 people in an Easter Sunday attack on a park in the eastern city of Lahore, the latest in a series of brutal attacks by the group.
The suicide attack on Sunday targeted Christians and others celebrating Easter and was the second attack by the Jamaat-ur-Ahrar on Christians in the city since last year.
Sunday’s bombing further illustrated an apparent shift in strategy by Pakistani militants since the start of last year. Many major attacks since then have specifically targeted religious minorities, including non-Muslims and minority Muslim sects.
Pakistani authorities have expressed fears that the entrance of the Middle East-based Islamic State ideology - which places greater emphasis on killing Christians and minority Shi’ite Muslims - could intensify sectarian violence in Pakistan.
Sunni Muslims are the vast majority in Pakistan’s population of 190 million, while Shi’ite Muslims account for about 20 percent, Christians about 2 percent and Hindus and the Ahmadi Muslim sect a combined 1 percent.
The following list outlines a recent uptick in Jamaat-ur-Ahrar attacks.
MAJOR ATTACKS CLAIMED BY JAMAAT-UR-AHRAR FACTION SINCE 2015
- Jan 9, 2015: Eight people killed after a bomb rips through a Shi’ite mosque in northern city of Rawalpindi.
- Mar 15, 2015: Twin church bombings in Lahore kill 14 Christian worshippers, triggering riots.
- Dec 29, 2015: 23 killed in attack on a government office in the northwestern town of Mardan, about 100 km (60 miles) northwest of the capital Islamabad.
- Feb 18, 2016: Nine paramilitary personnel killed in two separate attacks on checkposts in the Mohmand tribal area, where Jamaat-ur-Ahrar is based, about 160 km (100 miles) from Islamabad.
- March 1, 2016: Two Pakistani U.S. consulate employees killed in roadside bombing targeting vehicle convoy in Mohmand Agency.
- March 7, 2016: Suicide bomber attacks court complex in Shabqadar, about 145 km (90 miles) northwest of Islamabad, killing 10 people. Jamaat-ur-Ahrar says attack is “revenge” for the execution a week earlier of Mumtaz Qadri, the man who killed a provincial governor over perceived blasphemy in 2011.
- March 27, 2016: Suicide bomber attacks public park in eastern city of Lahore, killing at least 70 people. Jamaat-ur-Ahrar says attack targeted Christians celebrating Easter.
Reporting by Asad Hashim; Editing by Nick Macfie