A pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up outside a 130-year-old Anglican church in Pakistan after the Sunday service, killing at least 78 people in the deadliest attack in recent history on Christians in the predominantly Muslim country.
Explosions struck the historic white-stone All Saints Church in the city of Peshawar, near the frontier tribal areas where Islamist militants have their strongholds, as hundreds of parishioners, many of them women and children, streamed out of the building.
“I heard two explosions. People started to run. Human remains were strewn all over the church,” said one parishioner, who gave only her first name, Margrette.
Her voice breaking with emotion, she said she had not seen her sister since the explosions ripped through the area around the gate of the church enclosure.
Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said the death toll included 34 women and seven children. More than 100 people were wounded.
“Who are these terrorists, killing women and children?” Mr Nisar said.
The Taliban-linked militant group TTP Jundullah claimed responsibility within hours of the attack.
“They are the enemies of Islam, therefore we target them,” said the group’s spokesman, Ahmed Marwat.
“We will continue our attacks on non-Muslims on Pakistani land.”
Peshawar’s commissioner Sahibzada Anees told reporters the bombers struck when the service had just ended.
“Most of the wounded are in critical condition,” Mr Anees said, adding special security had been in force to protect the church.
“We are in an area which is a target of terrorism and within that area there was a special security arrangement for the church.
“We are in a rescue phase and once it is over we will investigate what went wrong,” he said.
Schoolteacher Nazir Khan, 50, said at least 400 worshippers were greeting each other when there was a huge explosion.
“A huge blast threw me on the floor and as soon as I regained my senses, a second blast took place and I saw wounded people everywhere,” Mr Khan said.
Grieved relatives gathered outside the church and shouted slogans against police over the security lapse.