Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Protests continue as Pakistan suspects Al Qaeda allies killed Christians

As protests continue in Pakistani cities, the government say Islamist militants from groups linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban are suspected of being behind the mob violence that killed eight Christians in central Pakistan over the weekend.

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (AUGUST 4, 2009) REUTERS - As protests continue in Pakistani cities, the government said on Tuesday (August 4) Islamist militants from groups linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban are suspected of being behind the mob violence that killed eight Christians in central Pakistan over the weekend.
The army is battling a Taliban insurgency in the northwest, and there are fears that jihadis based in the central province of Punjab, where the attack on Christians took place, could become more active in trying to destabilise mostly-Muslim Pakistan.

Over 50 men, women and children marched through the streets in the capital Islamabad in a protest rally on Tuesday.

"Today we are protesting against the spilling of Christian blood. We will take revenge for the blood of Christians," said Tasneem Kausar, chairperson of Pakistan Minorities Methodist Churches Committee.

Incensed by unsubstantiated allegations that the Koran had been desecrated by a Christian, an angry mob torched dozens of houses in the town on Saturday (August 01), killing eight people, including four women and a child.

The governor for Punjab province, Salman Taseer visited Gojra on Tuesday.

"Yes, they are the ones who had been driven out of Swat. They are involved (in the rioting). God willing, we will also expel them from Punjab," he told reporters.

Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), an outlawed pro-Taliban Sunni Muslim sectarian group, and its al Qaeda-linked offshoot, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), were suspected of orchestrating the attack in Gojra town, according to Rana Sanaullah, Punjab's law minister.

Sanaullah said "masked men" had come from the nearby district of Jhang, birthplace of both SSP and LeJ, to incite the anti-Christian rioting in Gojra.

Around 150 people were detained for questioning.

The government received an intelligence report two months ago suggesting that militants were switching from suicide bombings to inciting sectarian strife in the country, Sanaullah said.

Dozens of Christians alongwith activists of a major Islamic party Jamat-e-Islami protested in the southern city of Karachi.

"We have confidence in government and we want justice. The obstacles, due to which injustice and tyranny take place, should be removed," said reverend Avarist Pinto, the Archbishop of Karachi.

A deputy leader of Jamat-e-Islami party, while addressing the protest rally, said the Gojra incident has brought shame to Muslims as Islam is a religion of peace.

SSP was founded in the 1980s and is primarily connected to sectarian violence against minority Shi'ite Muslims. It was officially banned in January 2002.

LeJ, a splinter group of SSP, has forged ties with al Qaeda.

Militants from LeJ were behind a suicide truck bomb attack that killed 55 people at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad last year, and LeJ members were also involved in attempts to assassinate former president Pervez Musharraf.

Minorities, including Christians, account for roughly four percent of Pakistan's 170 million population.

Muslims and minorities generally live in harmony but Islamist militants, angered by Pakistan's alliance with the United States since 2001, have carried out periodic attacks on them as part of a campaign to destabilise the state.