Muslim Cleric Who Preached Attacks
Detained for Questioning in Grenade Attack on Church
By Asif Shahzad LAHORE, December 26 (Associated Press) -- Police detained four people, including aMuslim cleric who allegedly urged his followers to kill Christians, after a Christmas Day grenade attack on a Pakistani church that killed three young girls and wounded 13 other people. 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 Day service Wednesday in Chianwala, about 40 miles northwest of Lahore. 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'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. Riaz said the two are believed to have undergone training at a Jaish-e-Mohammed camp. Another two people also are being detained by police in Chianwala in connection with the grenade attack on the church, but it was not known whether they too had links to the group, which was outlawed in Pakistan last January. 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. Interior Ministry spokesman, Iftikhar Ahmad, told the AP in Islamabad, that the three dead were young girls. Security had been increased in churches ahead of Christmas celebrations around this mostly Islamic nation, which has seen a string of attacks targeting Christians this year. 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. The two attackers escaped after the attack, said Iftikhar Ahmed, spokesman for the Pakistani 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, 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. 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. In the capital Islamabad, Pakistani security officials said they found a shopping bag in bushes containing two handmade grenades and 20 shell casings Wednesday about 100 yards from St. Thomas's Protestant Church. Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema of the Interior Ministry said the motive for leaving the weapons was not clear. In the days leading up to Christmas, more than half-dozen policemen with rifles had been posted around the Islamabad 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," said the church's pastor, Rev. Irshad John. "It was God who changed the plans of those people." 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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