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Gunmen wearing suicide vests attack Christian area in Pakistan

Four militants stormed a Christian neighbourhood near Peshawar but were kept at bay by a single security officer with a rifle

Northwestern Pakistan was struck by two separate militant attacks on Friday, when gunmen wearing suicide vests stormed a Christian neighbourhood near the town of Peshawar, killing one civilian, and a suicide bomb attack on a district court in the town of Mardan killed 10 people and wounded 41 others.

Militants stormed the Christian neighbourhood early on Friday morning, triggering a shoot-out in which four attackers were killed and one Christian died, police and the military said.

Three security officials and two civilian guards were wounded in the attack.

Army spokesman Lieutenant General Asim Saleem Bajwa said that security forces were searching for any accomplices.

Local police official Shaukat Khan said four suicide bombers entered the Christian colony.

One of them went into a church, but no one was there at the time. He said the attackers killed one Christian in the neighbourhood. It was not immediately clear if any of the suicide bombers had detonated their explosives.

The quick response from the local civilian guards and security forces prevented more deaths, Khan said.

According to the British Pakistani Christian Association, the attack was foiled by one Christian security officer who alerted the authorities and kept the militants at bay with just a rifle. The officer is thought to be the one Christian killed in the fighting.

Ahsanullah Ahsan, a spokesman for Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a breakaway Taliban faction, claimed responsibility for the attack.

In the town of Mardan, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Peshawar, a suicide bomber threw a grenade at the district court before detonating his explosives, according to government spokesman Mushtaq Ghani.

He said that lawyers, policemen and passers-by were among the 10 people killed in the attack. Some of the wounded were critically injured, Ghani said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for second attack.

Pakistan has been struck by a number of large-scale militant attacks in recent months, including a March suicide bombing targeting Christians celebrating Easter in a park in the city of Lahore that killed around 70 people. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility for the bombing and warned of further attacks.

Christians are a tiny minority in this majority Muslim nation. While some Christians live in Muslim areas, many choose to live together in Christian-only neighborhoods.

Last month, a bomb blast targeting lawyers and journalists gathering outside a hospital in the city of Quetta killed some 70 people. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and the Islamic State group issued competing claims of responsibility for the attack.

The Pakistani army said on Thursday it had prevented IS from establishing a network in the country, saying it had arrested over 300 IS militants in recent years, including fighters from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

On Friday, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issued statements condemning both attacks, saying “these cowardly attacks cannot shatter our unflinching resolve in our war against terrorism.”


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