furious over church massacre
Lahore | By Abdullah Iqbal | 29/10/2001
Christian groups reacted with fury yesterday to the
unprecedented attack in a Bahawalpur church in central Punjab
where 18 Christians were gunned down while attending a church
The incident took place in the southern Punjab town which has seen
sectarian violence, but never an attack on the tiny Christian
community in the area.
According to eye-witnesses, "screams of women and the wails of
children filled the air as worshippers fell to the ground."
One witness, Asif Samuel, told Gulf News, "Even as I watched, the
man besides me fell to the ground and blood appeared all around
Samuel said that the man was Bobbi‚ a neighbour and fellow
Christian, but was uncertain if he was among the 18 dead,
including at least four women and four children.
Shahbaz Bhatti, head of the Christian Liberation Front (CLF)
described the attack as "completely barbaric" and demanded
protection for Christians across the country. He also held that
"we had warned earlier of increasing animosity to Christians, but
no one took heed."
Other groups representing the interests of Christians were also
angered. Dilawar Peter, of the Christians Welfare Forum commented,
"This is all the result of failing to crack down on religious
extremism. Now even the peaceful Christian community is not safe."
It is believed that religious groups, holding Christians
responsible for the ongoing campaign against Afghanistan, had
decided to target the usually peaceful community within the
Harassment and violence against Christians is relatively rare, but
the interpretation of the campaign in Afghanistan as a "war
between Christians and Muslims" could change this.
"We do not know which group could be involved. They were well
equipped with weapons, and we are on the search for them" a senior
police officer said.
Dr Altaf Malik, medical chief at the Bahawalpur Central Hospital
where the many wounded are being treated, said, "We have around 20
people under care, while others have returned home."
One of those killed was a policeman, Mohammad Saleem, posted near
the church. All the others who died were Christians, and the
process of identifying bodies and handing them over to families,
was continuing last evening.
"We are sure the attack was carried out by extremists of some
religious group, and we are now taking steps to offer greater
protection to Christians," Haris Ikram, the Bahawalpur police
chief, said, while adding the attack was "totally unexpected."
Christians are the largest minority community in Pakistan where 97
per cent of the population are Muslims.
A wave of panic ran through the Christian community in Lahore and
other cities following the attack on the Bahawalpur church.
At Fazlia Colony, an area that houses many poor Christians in the
city, a phone call was made to several houses in the area, stating
a bomb had been planted.
Local youth immediately formed vigilante groups and searched the
area. An attempt was also made to summon the police, but one
resident, Rehman Masih, complained that they failed to get
"We called at the local police station, but we were ignored. We
are used to this. The police routinely treat us as second class
citizens," he complained.
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