slaughtered at Pakistan church
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan —
Bearded gunmen slaughtered a congregation of Christians as
they worshipped in their church pews yesterday, leaving at
least 16 dead and many more wounded.
Bodies of small children lay
with their mothers and fathers on a bloodstained floor, and
bullet holes peppered the walls of St. Dominic's Catholic
Church in the town of Behawalpur, 300 miles south of Islamabad
in eastern Pakistan.
Local newspapers received a fax
claiming responsibility by an unknown group, "Lashkar
Omar," or "Army of Omar," possibly a cryptic
reference to Afghanistan's leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar.
The fax said the morning attack
on the church was in retaliation for "attacks against the
Muslims and mosques" in the United States, Britain and
In the southwestern city of
Quetta, meanwhile, a bomb ripped through a passenger bus,
killing at least three persons, including two soldiers, and
wounding 25 others, police said. There was no credible claim
Pakistan President Pervez
Musharraf said the attack on the church was the work of
"Islam condemns terrorism
of every kind, and no Muslim can be involved in such a
terrorist act," Gen. Musharraf said.
Witnesses said four or five
masked men on motor scooters rode up to the church, where they
pulled assault rifles from bags and started shooting —
starting with a policeman at the door — before storming
inside and spraying the congregation with gunfire.
"There was blood all around
me, bodies lying on the ground, people injured, bullets in the
walls," said Sister Aina, the principal of a boarding
school adjacent to the church. The sister, who uses only one
name, arrived moments after the terrorists fled.
"The whole scene was so
horrible that it will haunt me the rest of my life," she
said. "Even when the bodies were removed and the injured
were shifted to the hospital, the blood on the floor of the
church and the bullets in the walls. From now on, whenever I
go in this church I will feel this blood and these
Christians, who make up about 1
percent of the population in this overwhelming Muslim nation
of 145 million, have been fearful of attacks by militant
Islamists ever since the Sept. 11 suicide attacks on New York
and Washington. Police have been posted at Christian churches
In the past, Christian churches
in Pakistan have been burned by Muslim extremists, but nothing
like yesterday's massacre had ever occurred.
It raised inevitable fears of
yet another front emerging in the war on terrorism, in which
Pakistan has backed the United States and severed previous
close ties to Afghanistan's Taliban government.
Lying sprawled on the floor of
the church were the bodies of seven women, two children aged 3
and 5, and the pastor, Father Emmanual. Others died later at
the hospital. Most of the victims were from the same family.
"We have nothing to do with
what's going on in Afghanistan. We are innocent people,"
one woman told Reuters news agency.
A Protestant congregation of
about 80 people was borrowing the Catholic church for its
services because it has no church of its own. Some people
escaped through adjacent rooms. Others lay still on the floor,
pretending to be dead until the gunmen fled.
The bomb in Quetta, apparently
hidden under a seat, went off as the bus was passing through a
heavily guarded military subdivision, police told the
In recent months, scores of
people have been killed and injured in a series of bomb
explosions in Pakistan. There also have been several
unsuccessful rocket-propelled grenade attacks on military
Quetta is the provincial capital
of southwestern Baluchistan province, which borders
Afghanistan. In recent weeks, the province has witnessed
violent protests by Islamic militants and Afghan refugees
opposing the pro-U.S. policies of the military-led government.
Leaders of Pakistan's Islamic
parties claimed the church massacre was part of a conspiracy
to slander Muslims.
Qazi Hussain Ahmed, leader of
the Jamaat-e-Islami party, said, "Some terrorist with
some negative agenda has done this to blame Muslims. It is a
Samiul Haq, leader of the more
radical Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam party, said, "The CIA has
done this to justify its crusades against Muslims."
Such statements are accepted
without question by a generation of young Pakistani militants
who idolize Mullah Omar and the Saudi-born Osama bin Laden,
the prime suspect in the suicide attacks on New York and
A group of 10,000 such Pakistani
"holy warriors" have been camped for two nights near
the Afghan border, where authorities are blocking their
attempts to enter Afghanistan to battle the United States.
"We must protect our
brother Muslims," said one volunteer. "This is the
first of the Muslim armies."
Armed with assault rifles,
rocket launchers and even anti-aircraft weapons, the group is
led by Sufi Mohammed, who preaches that Pakistan, like
Afghanistan, should be a strict Islamic state.