Three Pakistani Christians Lose Eyesight in Christmas Assault
Urdu Press Tags Victims Themselves as 'Culprits' in the Attack

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, January 7 (Compass) - At least three of the wounded survivors
of a deadly Christmas night attack against a village church in Pakistan
have sustained permanent eye damage, confirmed doctors from Lahore who
operated on two of them.

Afzal Masih and his brother Aslam Pervaiz Masih both underwent delicate
eye surgery yesterday in Lahore at the General and Mayo Hospitals,
respectively. Eye specialists remain uncertain whether Afzal will be
blinded in just one or possibly both of his eyes.  Both men have lost
the use of at least one eye from splintered glass fragments driven into
their faces by the grenade blast.

But today, "Pakistan" and other Urdu-language newspapers named the two
brothers among three Christian "culprits" identified by the police as
probable suspects. A third, Boota Masih, is the father of two daughters
still hospitalized with injuries from the December 25 attack.

"They have lost their eyes in the attack, and the other's daughters were
injured in it, and the [police and press] are accusing THEM?" asked a
shocked Christian in Lahore. 

"This is their normal tactic, especially in the Urdu papers," sighed a
churchman in Gujranwala. "They want to put on pressure [on the Christian
community], so they will withdraw the charges against the maulvi who is
accused."

Significantly, Aslam Pervaiz Masih himself filed the First Information
Report with the police against the Muslim leader accused of inciting the
attack, just three hours after he was injured.

Another patient still under treatment in the neurology ward of General
Hospital, teenager Shakila Masih, also has serious damage to her eyes as
well as major head injuries. After a local newspaper announced on
December 28 that Shakila had died from her wounds to become the fourth
victim, the story was picked up and repeated by Reuters news agency.
Alarmed, the girl's relatives rushed to her bedside in Lahore to learn
that the report was incorrect.

Two more women, Nasreen Masih and Asia Masih, are also being treated at
Mayo Hospital for less serious eye injuries from the attack. Meanwhile,
Chianwali's other wounded Christians recovering in a Gujranwala hospital
are reportedly resisting medical discharge, saying they are afraid to go
back to their village. So far, none of their relatives have returned
either.

"Nobody is threatening them, but they are very much afraid," said a
visitor who talked with them on January 3. "They were saying that their
children are not going to school, and they are afraid to go to the
market to buy even their daily needs."

Three young girls died and another 13 children and their parents were
wounded in the December 25 attack, when two men hurled grenades into a
children's Christmas program at a small Presbyterian chapel in remote
Chianwali village, 40 miles northwest of Lahore.

Contrary to statements widely reported in the Pakistani and
international media, the attackers were not wrapped in women's burqas to
conceal themselves, village eyewitnesses later confirmed. According to
one Compass source who visited the attack scene the following day,
several bystanders had seen the faces of the two young men who threw
grenades in the church and then fled. "But no one is willing to give
evidence," the source said, "as they are afraid of reprisals from the
police." 

"Their faces were clear," agreed a member of the Center for Legal Aid
Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) investigative team. "They were not
wearing burqas."  Villagers identified the suspects as Naeem and Ijaz,
two young Muslims in the area who had both been involved in "jihad"
campaigns in Kashmir.

Meanwhile, the fiery Islamist cleric arrested just hours after the
attack on accusations of instigating it remains in the custody of the
Satrah police. Authorities also claim to have arrested other suspects
related to Maulvi Mohammed Afzal, including his sons and close
associates.

An open supporter of the militant Jaish-e-Mohammed (Army of Mohammed)
group now outlawed in Pakistan, Afzal faces charges of urging his
congregation to kill Christians in the weeks just preceding the December
25 attack.

"The maulvi had been abusing Christians and inciting the people for the
past three weeks," local church leaders confirmed. "We had reported
these threats to the police and named the people we suspected, but the
police had taken no action."

Since his arrest, local police investigators told the Pakistani press
they had been  unable to find "solid proof" that Afzal had any direct
involvement in the Chianwali attack. Pakistan's coalition of Islamist
political parties, the Muttahida Majlis-I-Amal (MMA), has insisted that
Afzal is innocent, calling for his immediate release.  Declaring that
the Pakistani government should not bow to international pressure over
this "local issue," the MMA described Afzal as "a soldier of Islam [who]
has always preached for Islam."

According to a newspaper report on January 1, the MMA placed blame for
the attack on the local church, urging the government "to also
interrogate Christian leaders who arranged a service in Chianwali
without informing the authorities."

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