Skip to comments.Gunmen Kill 16 at Pakistan Church
Posted on 10/28/2001 8:17:33 PM PST by ArrogantBustard
BEHAWALPUR, Pakistan (AP) - Gunmen with ``bags of guns and bullets'' stormed into a Christian church in Pakistan during Sunday services and sprayed the congregation with gunfire, killing the minister and 15 others, police and survivors said.
The attack - the bloodiest in memory against the country's small Christian community - took place during a Protestant service held at St. Dominic's Roman Catholic Church in the center of Behawalpur, a city in Pakistan's southern Punjab province.
It was unclear whether the attack was related to recent unrest over U.S.-led airstrikes on Afghanistan (news - web sites).
During the church shooting, survivors said worshippers tried to flee or hide under pews to escape an indiscriminate hail of automatic weapons fire that left the gray stone building pocked with bullet holes.
``Some of them lay down. Some begged for mercy. They didn't listen,'' said Ali Shah, a man in his early 20s who was in the front pew when the four masked gunmen burst in. He was one of five people being treated for bullet wounds at the city hospital Sunday afternoon.
The Rev. Rocus Patras, parish priest at St. Dominic's, said that at the time of the shooting, a Protestant congregation that lacks its own building was worshipping at the Catholic church as it has for 30 years.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but intelligence officials said members of a banned Islamic group were under suspicion. U.S. attacks on neighboring Afghanistan have enraged many Pakistani Muslims.
``Whenever something happens with America, they attack Christian churches,'' Patras said.
Authorities in Pakistan's four provinces ordered increased security at Christian churches. In Islamabad, where police commandos with automatic weapons guarded church gates Sunday afternoon, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf condemned the loss of ``16 innocent and precious lives.''
``The method used and the inhuman tactics employed clearly indicate involvement of trained terrorists of organizations bent on creating discord and disharmony in Pakistan,'' Musharraf said in a written statement.
Dr. Umar Farooq, an emergency-room physician at the Civil Hospital in Behawalpur, said four of the dead were children under 12, four were women and eight were men. Police said one of the dead was Father Emmanuel, the minister conducting the morning services. They did not know his last name.
Patras, the Catholic priest, was in his rectory preparing for his own service two hours later when he heard gunfire and went outside.
``I took these children, these little children, and ran. We jumped over the wall. It was like bombs were going off,'' he said. ``After that, I went back to the church and saw crying and blood and people dying.''
He added: ``They had whole bags of weapons and bullets.''
Behawalpur Police Chief Haris Ikram said one of the dead was a Muslim police officer named Mohammad Salim, who witnesses said was guarding the church gate when he was shot.
Police said at least 100 people were in the church when the attackers arrived on motorcycles. They opened fire for nearly five minutes and fled as quickly as they came.
Shamoon Masih, 34, who was shot in the leg and the arm, said most of those who died belonged to two families. He said the gunmen didn't select particular victims but merely fired into clusters of people.
``They had no mercy for the children. They had no mercy for the women. They could see that small children were being hit by bullets, but they kept firing,'' said Masih, who carried several children out of the church after the attack before passing out from his wounds.
Dr. Altaf Malik, medical superintendent at the hospital, said that after the shootings, distraught family members angered that loved ones could not be saved screamed at doctors and destroyed some medical equipment. ``We remained calm,'' the doctor said. ``We knew they were grieving.''
In the Vatican (news - web sites), Pope John Paul (news - web sites) II called the killings an ``evil act'' and a ``tragic act of intolerance'' and offered prayers to the victims' families.
The pope ``has learned with the deepest sadness about the terrible violence,'' read a condolence telegram sent by the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. It said the pontiff ``expresses his prayerful closeness to all affected by this evil act.''
In Britain, Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, spiritual leader of the Church of England, condemned the killings and said, ``Christian minorities in many parts of the world sometimes feel beleaguered and under pressure, but I call upon everyone to recognize that this is not a conflict between Christianity and Islam.''
There have been religious tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the area, but this was the first such attack on Christians in recent memory, authorities said.
Also Sunday, a bomb ripped through a passenger bus in the southwestern city of Quetta, killing at least three people and wounding 25 others, police said.
The bomb, which was apparently placed under a seat, exploded as the bus moved through a market area in a subdivision where military personnel live. Police said several of the wounded were soldiers, but they gave no further details.
In recent months, scores of people have been killed and injured in a series of bomb explosions in Pakistan. There were also several rocket-propelled grenade attacks on the military installations in Quetta.
And they say we shouldn't be armed in Church?