Two Islamic State suicide attackers stormed the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in the city of Quetta, the capital of restive Balochistan province. PIX: Irfan/Zuma Press/dpa

ISLAMABAD – At least eight people were killed and more than 30 others wounded when suicide bombers attacked a church one week before Christmas in south-western Pakistan.

The Islamic State extremist militia claimed responsibility for the Sunday attack. The group’s semi-official Amaq news agency reported that two Islamic State suicide attackers stormed the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in the city of Quetta, the capital of restive Balochistan province.

At least 400 people were inside the church at the time of the attack, according to police.

Two of the at least eight people killed were women, Civil Hospital Spokesman Waseem Baig said.

Robina Kaka, a doctor at a local hospital, said more than 30 people with injuries were admitted for medical treatment.

At least four people remain in critical condition, and those with minor injuries have been discharged, Kaka added.

The attack is an attempt to “cloud Christmas celebrations” and “create religious cleavages,” army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa said in a statement. Bajwa praised the “commendable” actions of law enforcement agencies after the attack.

Moazzam Jah Ansari, provincial police chief, told a media briefing that two suicide bombers had tried to enter the church and one of them was killed at the gate by police.

The second attacker was engaged by law enforcement agencies, on security duty, and he blew himself up.

“We have special security arrangements for religious places, particularly churches, and today it saved so many precious lives,” Ansari said.

Balochistan Interior Minister Sarfraz Bugti spoke of “a state of war,” saying there was no warning of the attack.

“Had the men got any further, there could have been hundreds of casualties,” he added.

Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province, shares borders with both Iran and Afghanistan and has faced violence on several fronts in recent years, including attacks by Islamist militants, the killing of Shiite Muslims by Sunni extremists, and a low-profile insurgency by nationalist groups seeking liberation from mainland Pakistan. -dpa

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