ISLAMABAD, Pakistan —Two suicide bombers detonated explosives outside a historic church in northwestern Pakistan, unleashing a horrific attack that killed at least 75 people as they left Sunday worship services.
The bombing in Peshawar, the deadliest single attack on Christians that church leaders could recall in the country's 66-year history, sparked protests nationwide and renewed concerns over the country's ability to protect religious minorities.
The blast occurred outside All Saints Church, which dates to 1883 and is one of the oldest Christian churches in northwest Pakistan.
According to security officials, the twin bombers blew themselves up near the gate of the church as more than 600 worshipers were leaving, sending body parts and debris flying through the air. Many of the dead were women and children, and officials said at least 120 people were injured.
A splinter group affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban — the Jundallah Group of TTP — asserted responsibility for the attack, saying it was in protest of U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani soil.
Pakistan's Christian community says it is facing a growing threat of intimidation, kidnapping and death at the hands of Islamist extremists and even some groups often seen as more mainstream.
"Every Christian is feeling under siege in Pakistan," said Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, a Christian attorney and chairman of the Pakistan Minorities Alliance.
Last year, Chaudhry successfully defended a 13-year-old Christian girl from charges of blasphemy after a Muslim cleric accused her of burning the Koran. The girl fled to Canada with her parents in March. That same month, hundreds of Christians were forced to flee their neighborhood in the eastern city of Lahore after a mob set dozens of houses on fire while accusing a man of blasphemy.
But the severity of the latest bombing stunned much of Pakistan. As gruesome images from the attack flashed across television screens, several of Pakistan's major political parties called for three days of mourning.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also issued a statement in which he vowed "solidarity" with Pakistan's Christian community. "Terrorists have no religion, and targeting innocent people is against the teachings of Islam and all religions," he said.