ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Members of the Christian community rampaged through the streets of Lahore on Sunday after suicide bombers attacked two churches during morning services, killing at least 14 people and wounding more than 70.
The Pakistani Taliban took credit for the attacks, reviving concerns that the Islamist militant group will increasingly target religious minorities in a bid to further divide Pakistanis and distract them from ongoing military operations against extremists.
According to police, at least two assailants tried to strike inside Catholic and Protestant churches in a predominantly Christian neighborhood of Lahore and were stopped by worshipers or security personnel. But the suicide bombers still detonated their explosives, causing heavy damage to St. John’s Catholic Church and Christ Church, which is affiliated with the Church of Pakistan.
Most of the casualties occurred at the Catholic church, where as many as 1,000 worshipers were inside. Speaking from St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Pope Francis condemned the violence and called on Christians around the world to support the victims.
“Our brothers shed blood only because they are Christians,” the pope said, according to Vatican Radio .
After the bombings, angry Christians began smashing windows and blocking traffic in Lahore. The mob beat two people suspected of involvement in the attacks and then set their bodies on fire.
Christians make up only about 1 to 2 percent of Pakistan’s population, but some analysts say they account for up to 10 percent of Lahore’s population. Many Christians in Pakistan are poorly educated and relegated to living in slums and working menial jobs.
They are also frequent targets of attacks. In September 2013, more than 80 were killed in a suicide bombing at a church in Peshawar just as Sunday services were ending.
Peter Jacob, a Christian activist in Lahore, said Pakistani Christians feel as if they are being pushed out of the country, where 97 percent of the population is Muslim.
Even though Pakistan’s military continues to battle Islamist militants in the northwest, Jacob said not enough is being done to address the “root causes of extremism.”
“There is so much hate speech against minorities and flaws in the school curriculum, but nothing has been done to do away with it,” he said.
Other religious minorities in Sunni-dominated Pakistan, including Shiites, Ahmadis, Sikhs and Hindus, also are often targeted. In the past six weeks, suicide bombers have stormed two Shiite mosques during Friday prayers, killing at least 80 people.
Pakistani intelligence officials say militants are trying to erode national support for the military by making minorities feel less safe.
Shaiq Hussain contributed to this report.