Pakistan Authorities Silent on
Church Attack Investigation
Police Claim Culprits Caught, But None Have Been Identified
by Barbara G. Baker ISTANBUL, January 30 (Compass) -- Five weeks after grenade-throwing assailants attacked a village church in Pakistan's remote northern Punjab region, local police officials remain tight-lipped concerning their promise to take "quick and stern action" to arrest and prosecute the culprits. It was nearly three weeks after the deadly Christmas night attack before Gujranwala's deputy inspector general (DIG) Malik Iqbal announced, on January 12, that one of two accused suspects had been taken into custody. Citing security concerns, Iqbal refused to name the captured suspect or his counterpart still at large, although he stated that under police interrogation, the man under arrest had "confessed his involvement" in the attack. Five days later, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf told reporters in Lahore that he had just been informed that the culprits who carried out the Daska church attack had all been arrested. Three young girls were killed and another 13 worshippers injured in the December 25 attack near Daska in Chianwali village, where Christian families had gathered for their annual Christmas program in a small Presbyterian chapel. Local Christians directly implicated a local Islamist cleric, Mohammed Afzal, filing a formal First Investigation Report (FIR) against him at the police station. Afzal is accused in the FIR of instigating the attack in recent months by the violent anti-Christian rhetoric in his mosque sermons, which repeatedly called on "every good Muslim" to kill Christians. Over the next few days, police officials announced that the mosque leader, his sons and several other associates had been put under arrest. All are said to be open supporters of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (Army of Mohammed), a banned group of Islamic militants fighting Indian rule in disputed Kashmir. But it remains unclear whether they are still in custody or will face charges over the deadly attack. The actual attackers, who were unmasked and identified by eyewitnesses as two young men named Rashid and Dildar, reportedly fled the scene by running into Afzal's "madrassah" (Islamic school) nearby. After his second fact-finding visit to the Daska area on January 22, coordinator Joseph Francis of the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) noted that the police chief heading the investigation was "not confirming anything," including the identity of the alleged culprits in custody. "When we met him last time, he was not giving any solid answers," Francis said. "He is still saying, 'Oh yes, we have arrested the two sons of the maulvi [mosque leader],' but he is not really mentioning anything." Even more disturbing, local Christians publicly testified at an Islamabad press conference January 20 that they were being "warned that Christians should not press the police to carry on with the investigation," Reuters news agency reported on January 21. "We have been receiving calls from people harassing us with a message: shut your mouth, or we will shut your mouth," local activist Jonathan Rehmat Gill told the assembled press. Although Pakistani authorities claim to have arrested or killed all of the perpetrators of six terrorist attacks launched against Christian churches and institutions in Pakistan in the past 15 months, few suspects have been named and none formally charged and put on trial. To date 42 Pakistanis have been killed and another 88 injured in the attacks, apparently mounted by Islamist militants opposing Islamabad's support of the U.S.-led offensive against the former Taliban regime and the al-Qaeda movement. Teenage Survivor Re-Hospitalized A month after the Christmas church attack, the Pakistani government fulfilled its promise to provide monetary compensation to the victims' families and the injured survivors. In a joint ceremony in Chianwali attended by both the federal and Punjab ministers for minorities and youth affairs, checks totaling 300,000 rupees ($5,000) were given to each of the three victim's families, with 150,000 rupees ($2,500) allocated for each person injured. During the January 22 presentation, Federal Minister Rais Munir Ahmad was quoted in "The Nation" newspaper as saying that the minorities in Pakistan were "freely enjoying their religious rights without any fear and pressure. The worship places of all minorities are safe," the minister declared, reiterating that the Chianwali culprits had been caught and would be "punished under the law." By this time, all the wounded had been discharged from the hospitals, although the following day teenager Shakila Masih was re-admitted to the neurology ward of Lahore's Mayo Hospital. "Shakila is in a very critical condition," a CLAAS representative said last week. Due to severe head wounds, the 14-year-old girl remained in a coma for an extended period, and is still "not in her senses," the representative said. "The government has said that they will allow Shakila to come back to the hospital for further treatment." Doctors have confirmed that three of the injured Christians will be permanently disabled by the loss of one or both of their eyes in the blast. Afzal Masih was totally blinded, while his brother Aslam lost one eye and is still fighting infection in his other eye. Despite surgery, Asiya Masih is expected to lose her sight in one eye as well.
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