|The shoe of a child lies beside a bloodied carpet at a bomb blast site inside a church in Kathmandu on May 23, 2009, after a bomb blast (AFP photo)|
KATHMANDU, May 23, 2009 (AFP) - Two people were killed, including a teenage girl, and 14 wounded when a bomb exploded Saturday in a Roman Catholic church packed with worshippers on the outskirts of the Nepalese capital, police said.
A Christian leader said the attack, the first on a Christian church, marked the "saddest day" in the history of the religion in the impoverished mountain nation.
The church -- Kathmandu's only Roman Catholic place of worship -- was jammed with around 500 people when the device went off at the start of morning Mass, creating panic as people rushed for the exits, police said.
A pamphlet of an obscure Hindu extremist group called the National Defence Army was found at the blast site in Lalitpur, a district adjoining Kathmandu, police said.
But police said it was too soon to assign blame for the attack on the Church of Assumption which came hours before lawmakers were due to vote in a new premier after weeks of political instability in the world's newest republic.
"A 15-year old student, Celestina Joseph, and 30-year-old Pabitra Paitri died in the bomb blast. Five of the injured are in serious condition," police officer Ram Brish Chaudhary told AFP.
"Security has been increased and an investigation is going on," said Chaudhary.
It was the first attack on a Christian church in the Hindu-dominated Nepal.
"There was a black plastic bag on one of the seats. It blew up when one of the church attendants tried to remove it," worshipper Peter Limbu told AFP from his hospital bed as doctors attended him.
"Suddenly there was a loud noise and flames inside the hall. It was just a few metres (yards) away from me," said Limbu, his face and shirt streaked with blood.
"The windows of the church were shattered and there was a panic. All the people began to run outside," he said. "I ran for cover too and I can't hear with my right ear now," he added.
The National Defence Army, which says it is fighting to restore the nation's Hindu monarchy abolished in 2008, had claimed responsibility earlier for killing a missionary in eastern Nepal last July.
The outfit also said it bombed a mosque in the east of the country last year, killing two people.
Hindu and Muslim religious leaders and human rights activists converged on the area where the church was located to show solidarity with the local Christian community, police said.
There is little history of religious conflict in Nepal.
"This is the saddest day in the history of Nepali Christians. Never before has there been such an attack on the church in Nepal," said Tirtha Thapa, a Christian leader and founder-director of Nepal's Human Development and Community Services which works in education and health.
"We deeply grieve with the families of the dead," he said.
Nepalese churches hold their services on Saturday which is the regular weekly public holiday. Sunday is a normal working day in the impoverished country.
The bombing came as lawmakers were due to choose a new premier, three weeks after Maoist prime minister Prachanda quit, plunging the nation into a crisis triggered by a stand-off between his ex-rebels and the army.