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Suicide bombers attack church in Pakistan, killing 9

Two suicide bombers attacked a church in the southwestern city of Quetta in Pakistan on Sunday, killing nine people and wounding more than 50 others, officials said.

1 assailant killed at entrance; another opened fire on worshippers and detonated suicide vest

A police officer escorts a family from the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta in Pakistan on Sunday. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the deadly attack at the church. (Naseer Ahmed/Reuters)

Two suicide bombers struck a church in Pakistan on Sunday, killing nine people and wounding more than 50 others, authorities said, in the first attack on a church claimed by the group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Worshippers were attending services ahead of Christmas when the bombers appeared in the city of Quetta and clashed with security forces. One assailant was killed at the church entrance. The other man made it inside and detonated his explosives-filled vest outside the prayer hall, said Sarfaraz Bugti, home minister for the southwestern Baluchistan province.

Hundreds of people were inside the Methodist church in Quetta when two gunmen launched their attack. (Naseer Ahmed/Reuters)

Baluchistan police Chief Moazzam Jai Ansari praised the response of security forces guarding the church, saying the attacker who made it inside was wounded and unable to reach the main building.

"Otherwise the loss of lives could have been much higher," he told reporters.

The police chief said there were nearly 400 worshippers in the church for the pre-Christmas service.

He said the venue, Bethel Memorial Methodist Church, was on high alert as Christian places of worship are often targeted by Islamist extremists over the Christmas season.

Search for accomplices

Quetta police Chief Abdur Razzaq Cheema said a search was underway for two suspected accomplices who escaped.

A police officer takes a position after the attack. (Naseer Ahmed/Reuters)

Local television showed ambulances and security patrols racing to the scene as women and children were being led out of the church's main gate.

ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attack on their Aamaq news agency, saying two "plungers" from their group had stormed the church, without providing further details.

A man carries a boy after fleeing the church, where one of two gunmen detonated a suicide vest and began shooting at Christian worshippers. (Naseer Ahmed/Reuters)

It was the first time ISIS has claimed an attack on a church in Pakistan, though Muslim extremists have claimed church attacks in the past. The deadliest example was in September 2013, when twin suicide bomb blasts killed 85 people in a Peshawar church. In March 2015, two suicide bombers attacked two churches in the eastern city of Lahore, killing 15 people.

Fifty-seven people were wounded in the latest attack, including seven who were listed in critical condition, according to Wasim Baig, a spokesperson for Quetta's main hospital.

Two people flee after Sunday's attack on worshippers at the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta. (Naseer Ahmed/Reuters)

A young girl in a white dress sobbed as she recounted the attack to Geo television, saying many people around her were wounded.

Aqil Anjum, who was shot in his right arm, told The Associated Press he heard a blast in the middle of the service, followed by heavy gunfire.

"It was chaos. Bullets were hitting people inside the closed hall," he said.

Dozens of Christians gathered outside a nearby hospital to protest the lack of security. Pakistan's president and other senior officials condemned the attack.

With files from Reuters

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