Six dead in Pakistan school attack

Monday, August 5

By David Brunnstrom
JHIKA GALI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Six Pakistanis have been killed and at least
three people wounded after masked gunmen burst into the compound of a school
for children of foreign missionaries near the town of Murree.

Two security guards, a cook, a carpenter and a receptionist were among those
shot dead in the Monday morning attack at Murree Christian School, the
director, Russell Morton, told Reuters.

None of the 146 children of missionaries from countries including the United
States, Britain, Canada, Germany and New Zealand, was hurt, but a Filipino
women, who was visiting her son, was shot in the hand. 

All 30-35 foreign staff were unharmed.

Police said it was too soon to say who was behind the shooting, which involved
at least three masked men armed with AK-47 assault rifles.

THIRD STRIKE AGAINST CHRISTIANS
It was at least the third fatal strike against a Christian minority target
since Pakistan began supporting the U.S.-led war on terror after the September
11 attacks.

"This is a potential disaster for the foreign missionary community," Morton
told Reuters at the school in Jhika Gali near Murree, a hill resort about 50 km
(31 miles) from Islamabad.

"They wanted to hit at the missionary community. What better way than to hit at
their kids?"

Reverend Saeed Javed, a Christian pastor and father of one of the victims and
the uncle of another, blamed militant Muslims.

"Personally, I think this is a terrorist attack," he told Reuters. "Good
Muslims could not do this."

Khurseed Abbassi, the mayor of Murree, told Reuters that of the six dead, two
were Christian and four Muslims.

BLOODSTAINED SENTRY BOX
Bloodstains could be seen in the sentry box just outside the school compound --
where the attackers shot the first guard to gain access -- and around the
corrugated iron-roofed school church within its walls.

Morton said three guards exchanged fire for 10 to 15 minutes with the intruders
before they escaped, apparently unharmed.

He said the assailants fired indiscriminately into a largely deserted boarding
hostel after ignoring elementary and secondary school buildings where children
aged six to 18 were in class.

Morton said the school was holding a crisis meeting to decide whether it would
be able to continue operations.

Dozens of heavily armed soldiers were stationed outside the compound on a
picturesque pine-fringed hillside just above Murree, which was developed as a
resort by the colonial British.

The gunmen opened fire just after the children had returned to classes after
morning break, at about 11.15 a.m. (0515 GMT), according to Morton.

INTENDED TO SCARE
He said the fact they had not attacked the classrooms could be an indication
they had intended to scare, but not to kill Westerners.

"It is my opinion that this attack was designed to cause trouble for the
Pakistan authorities," he said. "The school has been operating for 46 years and
we have never had any problems with the local community in the past."

William Jan, 26, a school clerk who was among the wounded, said he saw three or
four attackers. He said they had no beards and fair complexions.

Jan said he saw the cook shot. "He was running ahead of me when he was hit by a
bullet. I started running towards the jungle but bullets hit my legs and I fell
down."

Saleem, 67, who lives close to the school, said he came out of his house after
hearing the gunshots. He was being treated for gunshots to the legs.
The attack was the latest in a series on foreign targets in Pakistan in the
past few months.

Islamic militants, apparently angered by President Pervez Musharraf's support
for the U.S.-led campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban in neighbouring
Afghanistan have been blamed for a string of attacks on foreign targets in
recent months.

Eleven French engineers and three Pakistanis were killed in a bomb attack in
the southern city of Karachi on May 8 and 12 Pakistanis died and 20 were
wounded when a car bomb exploded outside the U.S. consulate on June 14.
The consulate closed on Monday after a security alert.

The violence has singled out the Christian community.

A grenade attack in March killed five people including the wife and daughter of
an American diplomat in a Protestant church in Islamabad mainly used by foreign
nationals.

And last October, 16 Christians and a Muslim were massacred in a church in
Bahawalpur in populous Punjab province.

Christians, Hindus and other religions make up about three percent of
Muslim-majority Pakistan's 140 million people.

Return to Project Open Book