Sunday Service Ends in Carnage
for Christian Worshippers in Pakistan
Agence France Presse DATELINE: ISLAMABAD, March 17 What should have been a quiet morning service for foreign and Pakistani worshippers at the Protestant International Church here ended in carnage Sunday when at least one attacker hurled grenades into the congregation, killing five and injuring dozens more. Around 60 to 70 Christians, including foreigners and children, were attending the service when a "local-looking man" entered the church around 10:50 am (0550 GMT) and threw up to eight grenades into the crowd of worshippers. Five people, including two Americans, a Pakistani woman, an Afghan man and another man of unidetermined nationality, were killed in the resulting deadly blasts which were heard in the heavily-guarded US embassy nearby. As shocked and panic-stricken worshippers ran for the door, residents rushed to the church in the quiet and -- until now -- safe district in the heavily-guarded diplomatic enclave of southeast Islamabad. "I was playing tennis in the embassy when I heard loud explosions from the church," an American woman at the scene said. "Because my colleagues and friends were there I rushed towards the church and it was sheer panic. I don't know who is injured and who is dead." From the outside the low white modern building which served as the church bore no obvious signs to indicate the devastation which occurred inside. A boy whose father worked as the church security guard was playing outside making paper boats when he heard the blasts. "I was playing in the courtyard of the church when I heard a big explosion. And I saw everyone trying to come out of the church screaming and there was severe panic," the 13-year-old Afghan boy told AFP before being whisked away by a security official. A police guard had also been deployed, even though there had been no direct threats against the church. Sixteen Pakistanis from the minority Christian community were massacred at a church in Bahawalpur, Punjab, in October, but Sunday's attack is the first on foreign christians. Only a handful of the worshippers escaped unhurt, with 46 injured in the attack, including Sri Lankan ambassador Srilal Weerasooriya, his wife Dilhani and their child, and the wife of a Japanese diplomat. Reflecting the cosmopolitan makeup of the congregation, the injured also included eight Pakistanis, nine Americans, seven Iranians, two Australians, five Britons, a Candian, a German, an Ethopian, one Iraqi, one Swiss, one Afghan and five as yet unidentified others. Police were already on alert for the Islamic holy month of Moharram -- which began Saturday -- as authorities had feared further sectarian violence, but trucks full of soldiers accompanying senior military officials inspecting the site were also posted outside the church following the blasts. The church, in an area of the enclave near the fashionable Clara Apartments which are home to expatriates and diplomats and the US embassy, was cordoned off by dozens of armed police who further increased the usually high security presence in the area. Dozens of bewildered foreigners gathered outside the church after hearing of the attack, but were held back from entering by police while ambulances and firefighters stood ready. While no-one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, Muslim religious extremists are opposed to President Pervez Musharraf's crackdown on militants. Since outlawing five religious extremist groups in January, more than 2,000 suspected radicals have been detained in a nationwide sweep. While Islamabad is usually regarded as the safest place in Pakistan, last month gunmen killed 11 people in a Shiite mosque in the capital's twin city of Rawalpindi.
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