By Jawad Mazhar, Worthy News Special Correspondent reporting from Pakistan
SINGOWALI, PAKISTAN (Worthy News)-- One person was killed and at least 11 injured when Muslim militants opened fire on Christian worshipers during a prayer service of a Presbyterian Church in Pakistan's Punjab province, Christian rights investigators and police confirmed Friday, March 6.
A woman, Shakeela Bibi, died on the spot while several others were injured in the shootings on Monday, March 2, in the remote village of Singowali, outside the industrial city of Gujranwala, said Sohail Johnson of advocacy group Sharing Life Ministries Pakistan (SLMP). Other sources said as many as 28 Christians were injured.
Besides shooting, Muslims, armed with iron rods and clubs, also smashed the windows of the church and desecrated Bibles, witnesses said. They reportedly removed the cross erected at the roof of the church and left the scene shouting at the Christians that they would face worse attacks if they did not leave the town. Several Christian homes were also attacked, Christians said.
The violence was the culmination of several days of tension after a Christian boy registered a criminal case against armed Muslim youths who allegedly robbed him at gunpoint last month.
"TEACHING A LESSON"
Insulted that a Christian would register a case against Muslims, the attack was planned in order to "teach a lesson" to the Christian community, said Emmanuel Shad, an elder at the church, in a statement distributed by rights group International Christian Concern (ICC).
The thieves reportedly assaulted 17-year-old Imran Masih, after stealing his mobile phone and about $40. Christian protesters took to the streets this week demanding justice and halting traffic. They dispersed after local police chief Athar Waheed said the "culprits would be put behind bars soon."
However police said Friday, March 6, they were still searching for suspects in the church shootings, the latest in a series of attacks against Christians in the region in recent weeks.
On February 25, Muslim militants attacked the Singowali United Christian, shouting abuses and destroying Christian literature, Nasir Khokhar, a local Christian politician, told Worthy News. That incident apparently happened after Christians protested against Muslim preachers "abusing Christ."
Outside Punjab province, tensions have also risen in Pakistan's North West Frontier province where Taliban militants reportedly blew up 16 CD and DVD stores in Takhtbhai, in the district of Mardan northeast of the capital Peshawar, this week, Christians said.
Last month several girls schools were attacked in the region and there have been concerns over the imposition of Shariah, or Muslim, law in the area. "This raises a big question for the government of Pakistan and especially for Christian legislators who proclaim to be defenders of Christian rights in Pakistan" said Ferhan Mazher, who leads advocacy group ‘Rays of Development Organization’.
"They should act as they had promised during their election manifesto and campaign," he told Worthy News and its partner news agency BosNewsLife. (With reporting by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos).