About 145 were injured in the attack on All Saints Church at Kohati Gate area of Peshawar. The first bomber set off his suicide vest as people were emerging from Sunday mass. The second bomber struck within a gap of 30 seconds, said city Commissioner Sahibzada Muhammad Anis.
    
Over 30 women and at least seven children were among the 81 killed, officials said. The dead included a Muslim policeman who was guarding the church. The Jandullah group, a faction of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was carried out to avenge US drone strikes.
    
Jandullah spokesman Ahmed Marwat told Newsweek: "Until and unless drone strikes are stopped, we will continue to strike wherever we find an opportunity against non-Muslims."
    
Islamist violence has been on the rise in Pakistan, undermining Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's efforts to tame the insurgency by launching peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban.

Within hours of the attack, Sharif toughened his stance considerably but fell short of calling for outright military action against insurgency in tribal areas on the Afghan border, an option supported by Pakistan's all-powerful army.

"Such incidents are not conducive of peace talks," Sharif said in televised remarks. "Unfortunately, because of this, the government is unable to move forward on what it had envisaged, on what it had wished for."

TURNING POINT?

An assault of such scale and audacity could be a turning point for Sharif after months of inconclusive efforts to engage the Pakistani Taliban in talks, offering him a cue to give in to the tougher approach backed by the military.

The army, which keeps thousands of troops in the tribal belt, an area of insurgency, opposes talks with the Pakistani Taliban, saying previous attempts to bring the militants to the negotiating table yielded no results.

Christians constitute about 4 percent of Pakistan's population of 180 million, and tend to keep a low profile in a country where Sunni Muslim militants frequently bomb targets they see as heretical, including Christians and Sufi and Shi'ite Muslims.

Attacks on Christian areas occur sporadically around the country but Sunday's assault, in a densely populated Christian residential area in Peshawar, was the most violent in recent history.

In 2009, 40 houses and a church were set ablaze by a mob of 1,000 Muslims in the town of Gojra in Punjab province. At least seven Christians were burnt to death. Seventeen Christians were killed in an attack on a church in Bahawalpur in 2001.

"Terrorists have not spared mosques, temples and churches. Please have mercy on us," one man outside the church, his face distorted by fear and anger, told Pakistan's private Geo television channel.

Protests by Christians were also reported in other cities including Multan and the violent port city of Karachi.

Explosions struck the 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.

(JPN/Agencies)

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