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Violence against Christians intensifies in South Asia

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A bombing at the Pakistan Bible Society injured 13 people one week after a Protestant pastor was shot to death in Pakistan’s Punjab province, marking a recent rise in violence against Christians in South Asia.

Police received an anonymous phone call Jan. 15 warning that the Pakistan Bible Society, adjacent to the Episcopal Holy Trinity Church and School for Girls in Karachi, was a terrorist target, according to a report by Elizabeth Kendal of the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission. Shortly after police arrived to investigate, two people on motorcycles drove by and threw grenades into the Bible society’s reading room.

Two Christian staff members received serious shrapnel wounds as windows were shattered, Kendal reported. A large crowd, including police and employees of the Bible society and the church, gathered at the site.

About 15 minutes after the first attack, a bomb concealed in a parked car exploded outside the Bible society. Twisted metal and glass from 12 destroyed cars were strewn throughout the area, according to Kendal’s report, but no one was killed.

“The attack is very similar in tactics to those used by Islamic militants fighting against the Indian army in Kashmir, but it is the first time that such a callous strategy of drawing crowds to their potential death has been used in Karachi,” the Barnabas Fund, an international organization working among Christian minorities under Islam, said in a report.

“The attack is the first one on a Christian institution in Pakistan in more than half a year. Pakistani Christians are fearing this may mark the beginning of another campaign of violence against them,” the Barnabas Fund continued.

Pakistani police have arrested a member of the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi for his suspected involvement in the Bible society bombing, and they have recovered a huge cache of bombs and related materials including maps of churches and Christian institutions, according to Kendal. The day after the man’s arrest, seven Al Qaeda suspects were arrested in the same neighborhood, though there was no indication of any link, according to the Associated Press.

The bombing followed a homicide Jan. 8 in which a 50-year-old Church of God pastor was shot once in the chest at close range with a pistol.

Pastor Mukhtar Masih’s body was found less than 45 minutes after he left his home to catch a train around 3 a.m. Police ruled out robbery as a motive because cash and necessary documents were found untouched in his pockets. Instead, they are calling the case a grudge killing.

“It is so cold in Pakistan in January at 3 a.m. that no sane person would be out unless they had a clear purpose, as did Pastor Mukhtar,” a source who had spoken with police told Compass Direct news service. “So [the police] speculate that someone must have learned his intention to catch the train and laid in wait for him.”

Masih had been a pastor in the area for 14 years, and he had regularly conducted 10 minutes of prayer and Bible reading over the Church of God loudspeaker at 6 a.m. each day, according to Compass Direct. Members of Masih’s congregation reported that the pastor had received threats on many occasions in relation to the loudspeakers, but they could not identify a recent incident that would have led to his murder.

Masih leaves behind a wife and seven children.

At least 45 people have been killed and more than 90 injured in terrorist attacks on Pakistani Christians since September 2001, according to Freedom Now News. Pakistan’s Christian community is estimated to include 3.8 million people.

In other reports of violence against Christians in South Asia:

— A local government minister suspects a conspiracy against a mission school in Madhya Pradesh, India, after a 9-year-old girl was found dead in the school’s compound Jan. 14. Hindu protestors allege that the girl was lured into the compound and killed there, according to Compass Direct, and seven staff members in charge of the mission school were arrested, possibly to appease the mob. Police then arrested a man who reportedly confessed to raping and killing the girl before throwing her body into the mission compound.

Clashes followed between Hindus and mostly second-generation Christians from tribal backgrounds in the community. Compass Direct reported that several houses owned by Christians were burned to the ground while police failed to intervene.

— A door was set on fire and a cross was vandalized at a Catholic church near Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 20, one week after Buddhist protestors set fire to another Catholic church on the outskirts of Colombo, according to Compass Direct. The incidents were the latest in a string of at least 65 attacks on churches in the country during the past year, which have escalated upon the death of a popular Buddhist monk who had led a campaign against religious conversions.

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  • Erin Curry