TWO suicide bombers targeted a packed Catholic church in Pakistan today killing at least eight people and wounding up to 45 more.
The gunmen – wearing explosive vests – stormed the church in Quetta city during Sunday services and opened fire on the hundreds inside.
Police guards at the church exchanged fire with the attackers before they could enter the main sanctuary, said local police chief Moazzam Jah.
He said the attackers clashed with security forces, with one assailant killed at the entrance while the other made it inside.
“There were nearly 400 people inside the church,” Jah said. “We killed one of them, and the other one exploded himself after police wounded him.”
Jah said the venue – Bethel Memorial Methodist Church – was on high alert as Christian places of worship were often targeted by Islamist extremists over Christmas.
No one has claimed responsibility for today’s horror attack – which was launched just a week before Christmas.
Baluchistan has long been the scene of an insurgency by separatists fighting against the state to demand more of a share of the gas- and mineral-rich region’s resources.
They also accuse the central government of discrimination.
The Taliban, Sunni Islamist militants and sectarian groups linked to al Qaeda and the ISIS group also operate in the strategically important region, which borders Iran as well as Afghanistan.
Hospital officials said two women were among the dead while another five women and two children were among the wounded.
A young girl in a white dress sobbed as she recounted the attack to Geo television, saying many people around her were wounded.
Aqil Anjum, who was shot in his right arm, told The Associated Press he heard a blast in the middle of the service, followed by heavy gunfire.
“It was chaos. Bullets were hitting people inside the closed hall,” he said.
Dozens of Christians gathered outside a nearby hospital to protest the lack of security.
The violence has fuelled concern about security for projects in the $57 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor, a transport and energy link planned to run from western China to Pakistans southern deep-water port of Gwadar.
Pakistan has launched several military offensives over the last decade against the Islamist militants who want to install their own harsh brand of religion.
Although beaten and dispersed, the militants have shown resilience to launch spectacular attacks.
Earlier this month, three Taliban suicide bombers attacked an agriculture college in northwestern Peshawar city, killing eight students and a guard. (SunUK)