Call for Tighter Security for Christians
after Attack on Pakistan Church
By Youths with Machineguns

CHRISTIAN SOLIDARITY WORLDWIDE
For immediate release

April 11 2002

A Presbyterian church close to the Kashmir border was attacked by a group of
Islamic extremists on Sunday April 7.

Seven youths, aged between 14 and 25, armed with automatic weapons, stormed
the church in Satrah village near Gujranwala district. They broke up the
evening service, verbally abused the congregation and fired randomly into
the air.

When the church minister called for help through the church loudspeakers,
the attackers fled the scene. Although no one was injured, the three hundred
Christian families living in the area were terrified.

Gujranwala district is renowned for being a breeding ground for religious
extremism. Islamic militant groups such as the Lakshar-I-Taiba,
Jash-I-Mohammad, Harkat-ul- Mujahideen and Muslim fighters are active in the
region. Many Muslim youths from the area have joined the Taliban for the
'Jihad' in Afghanistan.

According to an eye-witness, three of the youths were members of local
Islamic militant groups and had received training in Afghanistan.

Despite repeated requests from the Christian community, the local police and
the Senior Superintendent were reluctant to file a first incident report.
The local authorities also reportedly offered little sympathy.

Local Christians believe the attack is a further gesture of retaliation by
Islamists to President Musharraf's decisions to side with the US against the
Taliban regime and to confront extremism inside the country.

Several months ago, a local Muslim fighter group demanded that the
Presbyterian minister close his church and threatened to attack it if he
continued to conduct services.

This is the second serious attack on Christian churches in under a month,
and the third this year. Three weeks ago, Pakistan hit international
headlines when Islamic extremists hurled grenades into a protestant church
in the diplomatic area in Islamabad, killing five people and injuring over
40 others.

Recently, President Musharraf has taken groundbreaking steps to arrest
extremists, ban militant groups and regulate the madrassahs (religious
schools), but violence has continued.

The growing number of Pakistanis joining the Taliban forces has exacerbated
the military government's dilemma.

Various Islamic groups and elements within the military are criticising the
President for limiting the power of those actively involved in Kashmir and
thereby abandoning his claim to the region. Extremists have vowed to depose
the military leader, describing him as a 'threat to national security'.

Meanwhile, the minority faith communities remain concerned that they would
bear the brunt of extremist aggression and that fundamentalists would use
the US-Afghan conflict as a pretext to step up their attacks. Pakistan
Christians remain fully alert and closely monitor the situation as events
unfold.

CSW is calling on the Government of Pakistan to bring to justice those
responsible for carrying out and inciting this and all previous attacks on
churches and to augment security provisions for the Christian minority.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of CSW, said: "We are profoundly disturbed by
this series of attacks on Christian churches. It is appalling that, despite
the President's repeated assurances to protect the Christian community, the
local authorities are still reluctant to take up their cases.

"Driven by an intense desire to Islamise Pakistan, Islamic militant groups
have become one of the most divisive forces in the country. For Pakistan to
move towards progressive Islam, President Musharraf must take concrete steps
to oversee the complete disarming of these militant groups and bring to
justice all those who incite sectarian and religious violence."

For more information contact Richard Chilvers at Christian Solidarity
Worldwide on 020 8949 0587 or 020 8942 8810 or email
richard.chilvers@csw.org.uk

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