The Vatican issued the statement below in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attack in Lahore, Pakistan. An Associated Press report on the attack follows:
The horrible massacre of dozens of innocent people in a park in Lahore, Paksitan, casts a shadow of sadness and anguish on the feast of the Easter. Once again cowardly murderous hatred rages on the most defenseless. Together with the Pope, who has been informed of this tragedy, we pray for the victims; we are close to the wounded, to the affected families, to their immense pain, to the members of Christian minorities once again struck by fanatical violence, and to the entire Pakistani people. As the Pope stated this morning, despite such continuing horrible manifestations of hatred, may the crucified and risen Lord continue to give us the courage and hope needed to build paths of compassion, and solidarity, and with those who suffer, paths of dialogue, justice, reconciliation and peace.
Earlier today a message of condolences was also sent by the Holy Father via Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State for the victims of the terrorist attack in the stadium of Iskanderiyah in Iraq. (A suicide bomber had blown himself up in a football stadium south of the Iraqi capital, killing 29 people and wounding 60 persons): "Saddened by the news of the great loss of life caused by the terrorist attack in Iskanderiyah, His Holiness Pope Francis offers fervent prayers for the victims and their families, invoking God’s mercy upon the dead and divine consolation upon those who suffer. He prays that in response to this act of senseless violence the Iraqi people will be strengthened in their resolve to reject the ways of hatred and conflict and to work together fearlessly for a future of mutual respect, solidarity and freedom."
Pakistani Taliban faction claims Easter park bombing
ZARAR KHAN, Associated Press
ISLAMABAD (AP) — A breakaway Pakistani faction of the militant Taliban group has claimed responsibility for an Easter Sunday bombing that killed 65 people in a park in the eastern city of Lahore that was crowded with Christians, including many children.
Ahsanullah Ahsan, spokesman for Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, told the Associated Press that a suicide bomber with the faction deliberately targeted the Christian community.
The explosion took place near the children's rides in Gulshan-e-Iqbal park local police chief Haider Ashraf said. He said the explosion appeared to have been a suicide bombing, but investigations were ongoing.
The attack killed 65 people and wounded over 300, said Deeba Shahnaz, a spokesman for Lahore rescue administration.
Punjab's chief minister Shahbaz Sharif announced three days of mourning and pledged to bring the perpetrators to justice, said Zaeem Qadri, a spokesman for the provincial government.
The park was manned by police and private security guards, police chief Haider Ashraf said. "We are in a warlike situation and there is always a general threat but no specific threat alert was received for this place," he added.
Schools and businesses in the city will remain closed on Monday, the city's schools association and the Union of Lahore Traders said.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif held a meeting to assess the security situation in Lahore, according to a government statement. Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, also convened an emergency meeting of the country's intelligence agencies to begin to track down those responsible for the attacks, said army spokesman Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa.
Salman Rafiq, a health adviser to the Punjab government, called on people to donate blood, saying that many of those wounded were in a critical condition.
One witness, who wished to be identified only by his first name, Afzal, told AP that he had taken 20 children to hospital and carried three dead bodies to a police car. "I can't explain to you the tragic situation," he said.
Another witness, Tariq Mustapha, said that he had just left the park when he heard an explosion. He said his friend was still missing.
Footage broadcast on local television stations showed chaotic scenes in the park, with people running while carrying children and cradling the wounded in their laps.
A witness, not identified by name on Pakistan's Geo TV station, said he was heading toward a fairground ride with his wife and two children when he heard a huge bang and all four of them were thrown to the floor. A woman was shown crying while looking desperately for her missing 5-year-old son.
A spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council said that the United States "condemns the attack in the strongest terms," describing it as a "cowardly act in what has long been a scenic and placid park." Ned Price said the U.S. would continue to work with Pakistan and its partners to "root out the scourge of terrorism."
Vikas Swarup, spokesman for India's External Affairs ministry, tweeted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi telephoned Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif to express his deep condolences. He said Modi "underlined the need for uncompromising efforts to fight against terrorism."
Associated Press writers Zaheer Babar in Lahore, Pakistan, Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan and Ashok Sharma in New Delhi contributed to this report.
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