3 girls died in attack on Christian church in Pakistan

 

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From: Copy of CTV television Canadian news 
Date: 12/28/02
Time: 3:30:12 PM
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http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1040870463120_11/// Updated Fri. Dec. 27 2002 8:22 AM ET

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CTV Newsnet: Mourners gather to remember slain girls 0:49

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Three killed in attack on Pakistan church

Associated Press Mourners buried three girls killed in a Christmas grenade attack on a tiny church in eastern Pakistan, and police detained an Islamic cleric who allegedly called on followers to kill Christians days before the bombing. Police also detained three other people Thursday for questioning in the attack, which injured 13 people in Chianwala, about 40 miles northwest of Lahore.

Two assailants covered in burqas -- the all-encompassing garment worn by women in some Islamic countries -- tossed a grenade into the middle of worshippers at a Christmas service Wednesday.

On Thursday, about 2,500 people, several times the number of the church's normal congregation, gathered for a memorial service for the girls killed in the attack.The coffins of the victims -- aged 6, 10 and 15 -- were carried on the shoulders of mourners to a local cemetery for burial. In a statement, newly elected Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali described the attack as "dastardly" and designed to "foment religious and sectarian strife" in Pakistan. Since Pakistan lent its support to the U.S.-led military campaign to overthrow Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban, attacks on Christians by suspected Islamic militants have increased, killing more than two dozen people.

The cleric, who uses only the one name, Afzar, was being detained because of hateful remarks toward Christians made three days earlier in a sermon at a mosque in the district of Daska, where Chianwala is located, police said.

Authorities say they have no evidence yet that he was directly involved in the attack. Afzar reportedly told his congregation that "it is the duty of every good Muslim to kill Christians," according to Nazir Yaqub, a police officer in Daska."Afzar told people 'you should attack Christians and not even have food until you have seen their dead bodies,'" Yaqub told The Associated Press by telephone.

Afzar's son, Attaullah, was also detained for questioning. The two are open supporters of the banned group Jaish-e-Mohammed, a violent anti-India organization with ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network, said a police officer in Chianwala, Mohammed Riaz.

A spokesman for the militant group, Mufti Abdul Raouf, said his party did not carry out the attack. "Absolutely not, no member of our group was involved in the attack on that church in Daska. We did not assign anyone to do this," he said. Two other people have also been detained by police in Chianwala for the grenade attack, but it was not known whether they too had links to the group, which was outlawed in Pakistan last January.

Security had been increased in churches ahead of Christmas celebrations around this mostly Islamic nation. But a policeman who was to guard the church failed to show up for work, according to his superiors. The policeman, identified as Shah Nawaz, was being questioned, but it was not yet clear whether he was simply negligent or was party to the attack, said Yaqub.

About 40 people, mostly women and children and all Pakistanis, were attending the Christmas Day service. Witnesses said the attackers wore burqas, said Amanat Ali, a police official in Daska. However, it was unclear whether the attackers were women or disguised men.

Ali said witnesses reported the attackers were taller than most women. Male Islamic militants in neighboring Afghanistan have worn burqas to hide their identities in at least one recent attack there. There have been four other deadly attacks on Christians in Pakistan this year.

The last was on Sept. 25, when gunmen entered the offices of a Christian welfare organization in Karachi, tied seven employees to their chairs and shot each in the head. On March 17, a grenade attack on a Protestant church in Islamabad killed five people, including a U.S. Embassy employee and her 17-year-old daughter.

On Aug. 5, assailants raided a Christian school filled with foreign children in Murree, 40 miles east of Islamabad. Six Pakistanis were killed, including guards and non-teaching staff. And on Aug. 9, attackers hurled grenades at worshippers at a church on the grounds of a Presbyterian hospital in Taxila, about 25 miles west of Islamabad, killing four people.


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Updated Wed. Dec. 25 2002 10:39 PM ET

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CTV Newsnet: Attack on church in eastern Pakistan leaves at least three dead 0:29

Associated PressLAHORE, Pakistan Two assailants covered in burqas, a traditional women's garb, tossed a grenade at a small church during Christmas services in a Pakistani village Wednesday, killing three people and wounding 11 others, police said.

All three of the dead and most of the wounded were women or girls, in the attack in the village of Chianwala, in Daska township about 65 kilometres northwest of Lahore, police said. At least one of the dead was a young girl, said Brig. Javed Cheema of the Interior Ministry.

Security had been increased in churches ahead of Christmas celebrations around this mostly Islamic country, which has seen a string of Islamic militant attacks targeting Christians this year. Also Wednesday, police said they found explosives and ammunition near a church in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

Church officials feared they had been the intended target of an attack. In Chianwala, about 40 people, mostly women and children and all Pakistanis, were attending a Christmas Day service at the church when the attack occurred Wednesday evening. The two attackers escaped after the attack, said Iftikhar Ahmed, spokesman for Pakistan Interior Ministry.

Four of the injured were in critical condition, said Malik Mohammed Iqbal, chief of police in the nearby city of Gujranwala. Witnesses said the attackers wore burqas, the traditional all-encompassing garment worn by women in some Islamic countries, said Amanat Ali, a police official in Daska. But it was unclear whether the attackers were women or disguised men. Ali said witnesses reported the attackers were taller than most women.

Male Islamic militants in neighbouring Afghanistan have worn burqas to hide their identities in at least one recent attack there. Since Pakistan lent its support to the U.S.-led military campaign to overthrow Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban, attacks on Christians by suspected Islamic militants have killed about 30 people and injured at least 100.

On Wednesday, Pakistani security officials said they found a shopping bag in bushes containing two handmade grenades and 20 shell casings about 90 metres from Islamabad's St. Thomas's Protestant Church. Cheema, of the Interior Ministry, said the motive for leaving the weapons was not certain. In the days leading up to Christmas, more than half-dozen police officers cradling rifles had been posted around the church.

Church officials said they feared the weapons had been left as part of a planned attack on them. Still, Christmas services were held as scheduled.

"It's God's promise that he will be with us," the church's pastor, Rev. Irshad John, said "It was God who changed the plans of those people." There have been four deadly attacks on Christians in Pakistan this year. The last was on Sept. 25, when gunmen entered the offices of a Christian welfare organization in Karachi, tied seven employees to their chairs and shot each in the head, execution style.

On March 17, a grenade attack on Protestant church in Islamabad killed five people, including a U.S. Embassy employee and her 17-year-old daughter.

On Aug. 5, assailants raided a Christian school filled with foreign children in Murree, 65 km east of Islamabad.

Six Pakistanis were killed, including guards and non-teaching staff. And on Aug. 9, attackers hurled grenades at worshippers at a church on the grounds of a Presbyterian hospital in Taxila, about 40 km west of Islamabad, killing four people.