ISTANBUL (BP)–Armed gunmen attacked a Pakistani Christian welfare organization in Karachi Sept. 25, killing seven Christians and leaving an eighth critically injured, Compass Direct news service reported.
According to local police, two unidentified attackers entered the third-floor offices of the Idare-e-Amn-O-Insaf, or Institute for Peace and Justice (IPJ), in central Karachi shortly after working hours began. The assailants apparently gagged all the office staff and tied them to chairs before shooting eight of them point-blank in the head then escaping.
Six of the victims died on the spot, while a seventh died later in the hospital and an eighth is still fighting for his life. An additional office worker who was beaten and tied up was not shot, however, enabling him to wriggle free a half-hour later to summon the police.
A doctor working adjacent to the unmarked IPJ offices at the time of the attack told the Reuters news agency he had seen two gunmen. “They were wearing shirts and trousers and were clean-shaven,” he said.
By late morning, hundreds of police had cordoned off the 12-story Rimpa Plaza building where the attack took place along Jinnah Road in the southern port city’s central business district.
Although the shooting was Karachi’s first attack against a Christian institution this year, suicide and car bomb attacks against Western targets in the city in May and June killed 11 foreigners and 16 Pakistanis.
The shooting was the fifth deadly assault on Christians in Pakistan since last October, when militant Islamist groups vowed to retaliate against President Pervaiz Musharraf’s decision to support the U.S. war on terrorism. The toll from the string of anti-Christian attacks now comes to 39 killed and 75 injured.
Fifteen Christian worshipers and a policeman were massacred during an October 2001 worship service in Bahawalpur, with five more killed in a March grenade attack at the Islamabad Protestant Church. Another 11 died in separate attacks in early August against the Murree Christian School and the Taxila Christian Hospital, both in the northern Punjab near Islamabad.
Those killed Sept. 25, all Christians on the IPJ staff, were identified as Aslam Martin, community coordinator; Mushtaq Roshan, accountant; Kamran Anjum, computer programmer; John Meneses, office worker; Iqbal Allah Rakha and Benjamin Talib, drivers; and Edwin Foster.
According to doctors at Karachi’s main hospital, an eighth colleague, Robin Shareef, remains in critical condition in the intensive care unit. Doctors said the injured man needed surgery and faced permanent paralysis of the left side of his body from the injuries.
Meanwhile, the ninth office worker has collapsed and is now under hospital sedation, Reuters reported. Karachi police chief Syed Kamal Shah said investigators were keen to question this uninjured survivor, who reportedly fainted shortly after police began interrogating him.
Local Christian sources told Compass Direct that the sedated office worker, identified as Robin Peranditta, has been put under arrest as a possible suspect in the crime.
Founded in 1973, the IPJ has focused for three decades on obtaining labor rights for textile and city workers, along with representing other human rights issues for the poorest sectors of society. Jointly sponsored by Pakistan’s Catholic and Protestant churches, the group has not been involved in religious politics.
According to police sources, however, a recent issue of the organization’s magazine, “Jafakash” (Hard Worker), had dealt with Pakistan’s controversial laws against blasphemy of Islam.
The attack has shattered recent claims by the Pakistan government that a massive crackdown in September had “smashed” the militant terrorist groups assaulting Christian and Western targets in the country.
Pakistan’s Interior Ministry stepped up security safeguards around Christian sites Sept. 24 after admitting that police had uncovered new evidence of future attacks planned against non-Muslim places of worship and foreign establishments.
Police investigators confirmed that militants of the Harakat ul-Mujahideen Al-Almi group recently arrested in Karachi with weapons and explosives had in their possession maps and plans for at least two churches and a Christian school. Entry and exit points for the institutions’ facilities, all located in central Karachi, were marked on the maps, police said.
In Karachi and a number of other cities, local police had removed signs identifying churches meeting in private homes and began fortifying other Christian institutions with sandbag bunkers. “We are removing the signs for their own safety,” a police officer in Rawalpindi told the Associated Press.
Copyright 2002 Compass Direct, a news service based in Santa Ana, Calif., and on the Internet at www.compassdirect.org, reporting on Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith.