Christians protest deadly Taliban church attacks

Source: Published in Current Affairs on Monday, March 16, 2015

FAISALABAD/LAHORE: Members of the Christian community on Monday took to the streets in Faisalabad and Lahore to register their protest over a Taliban attack on two churches in Lahore which left 15 people dead and more than 70 injured.

The bombings on Sunday occurred during prayers at two churches located around half a kilometre apart in the city's Youhanabad neighbourhood that is home to more than 100,000 Christians.

Authorities said all Christian schools would remain closed as prayer services and funerals for the victims will get under way later Monday, said Christian community leader Kamran Michael. He also appealed on fellow Christians to remain peaceful.

Protesters on Monday blocked roads in Lahore, Faisalabad, Sargodha and Gujranwala. Protesters were also blocking a major highway that runs near the two attacked churches and prevented cars from driving by, said police officer Bilal Ahmad.

Approximately 100 protesters gathered at Faisalabad's Millat road where they burnt tires and attacked a rickshaw. The protesters also blocked the Kamalpur Interchange on Faisalabad motorway.

The protesters then headed to Zila Council Chowk where they are expected to continue their demonstrations. Protests have been taking place in various parts of Faisalabad since Sunday.

Following an attack on a metro bus in Lahore, authorities shortened bus routes today as approximately 200 people continued to protest in various parts of the provincial capital such as Youhanabad, Nishtar Colony and Bund road.

Metro Bus Authority Managing Director Sibtain told DawnNews that approximately 6,000 people had travelled on the metro bus since 6am. He requested the protesters to remain peaceful, adding that he is with them in their time of sorrow.

Women have also gathered for a sit-in protest and prayers for the deceased led by a priest in Youhanabad.

"The purpose of the sit-in is to shed light on the fact that the Christian community should be given protection and peaceful living conditions," one of the protesters told DawnNews.

Cases registered over Lahore church attacks

Lahore police on Monday registered two cases — under Section 302, 109 and 324 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) — of the blasts at the Nishtar Colony police station. The cases were filed on the complaint of Father Francis Gulzar and Father Irshad.

SSP Investigations Rana Ayyaz Saleem said that police high-ups were holding consultation over the registration of a case over the lynching of two suspects by enraged protesters.

Mosques, churches and schools soft targets for terrorists: Nisar

Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has said on Monday that noose around terrorists is being tightened and they (terrorists) are now attacking soft targets including mosques, churches and school in utter desperation.

Briefing the National Assembly Standing Committee on Interior in Islamabad, the federal interior minister brief the meeting over the performance of the interior ministry and said that the country's overall law and order situation had improved 'as a result of the government's effective counter terrorism policy'.

"We have shrunk the space for them to operate in,” he said.

Nisar, however, asked the nation to stand firm to take the war on terror to its logical conclusion and added, "We should remain united to foil their (terrorists') nefarious designs."

Condemning the terrorist attack on churches in Lahore a day earlier as an inhumane act, the interior minister said those who committed the act do not belong to any religion.

He said, "No religion of the world allows such acts."

The federal minister further said that those who took the law into their hand in the wake of the incident had also forwarded the agenda of terrorists who want to create wedge, division, discord and frustration in the society.

At least fifteen people, including a woman, a policeman and a twelve-year-old child, were killed and 85 others suffered injuries after two bombers blew themselves up outside two churches in Lahore on Sunday.

The attack had sparked mob violence in which two other unidentified people, who what the protesters claimed were the associates of the suicide bombers, were lynched to death.

Sunday's attacks — claimed by the Taliban's splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar — were the worst on the community since a devastating 2013 double suicide-bombing in Peshawar that killed 82 people.

That attack came months after more than 3,000 protesters torched some 100 houses as they rampaged through Joseph Colony, another Christian neighbourhood of Lahore, following blasphemy allegations against a Christian man.

The thousands of Christian protesters who clashed with police on Sunday attacked their cars with stones and sticks, as women wept and beat their heads and chests.

The protesters, some wearing crosses round their necks, later turned on the city's bus rapid transit system — a signature project of the ruling PML-N party of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Christians make up around two per cent of Pakistan's mainly Muslim population of 180 million. They have been targeted in attacks and riots in recent years, often over allegations of blasphemy.