ISIS claims responsibility for attack that killed 9 at Christian church in Pakistan

(Reuters/Naseer Ahmed)A policeman takes position after gunmen attacked the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta, Pakistan December 17, 2017.

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack at a Christian church in the Pakistani city of Quetta, where at least nine people were killed and more than 50 were injured.

Hundreds of worshippers were attending the church service at Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in the town of Quetta, the capital city of Baluchistan province, when militants clashed with security forces.

Sarfraz Bugti, the home minister for the south-western Baluchistan province, said that one attacker was killed at the entrance while another made it inside.

Baluchistan Police Chief Moazzam Ansari commended the security forces guarding the church, saying the death toll could have been much higher if it were not for their swift response.

A search is still ongoing for two suspected accomplices who have escaped, according to Quetta police chief Abdur Razzaq Cheema.

Among those killed were three women, while the wounded included four women and two children, said Wasim Baig, a spokesman for Quetta's main hospital.

ISIS took credit for the attack through its Amaq news agency, saying two "plungers" from the group stormed the church.

According to a report from Morning Star News, the attackers were between 16 and 20 years old and had strapped 15 kilograms of explosives to themselves. Ansari said that one of them was able to detonate his suicide vest while the other one was defused.

Sunil Pervaiz, who was at the church with his sister during the assault, said that the parishioners were busy worshipping when the firing started.

"We hid the women and children under the benches, but just then a deafening explosion occurred, breaking the wooden door and the glass windows. I saw several people covered in blood ... some were lying on the floor, some limping away to safety. It was sheer chaos," Pervaiz told Morning Star News.

Pastor Saimon Bashir Masih, the senior leader of the church, said that the gatekeeper was the first person to fall victim to the attack, adding that the congregation started to panic as soon as the shots rang out.

"We immediately asked the people to take shelter beneath the benches, as we were not sure about the attackers' location. Many panic-stricken people rushed towards the main door and that's when the second bomber exploded his jacket in the compound, resulting in the casualties," he said.

Bethel Memorial, which is located in the city's high-security zone, had been targeted for an attack in the past. Security had been raised for the church following the last attack, which took place a few years ago.

The Associated Press has reported that dozens of Christians have gathered outside a local hospital to protest the lack of security.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa denounced the attack, saying it was an attempt to cloud Christmas celebrations.

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