Partners of religious liberties organisation, Release International, visited the scene of the attack, carried out after Friday prayers on September 21.
They say a mob of up to 1500 threw highly flammable chemical bombs into the St Paul’s church complex in Mardan. They attacked other buildings in the compound, including a school and houses. Witnesses say they burnt religious books, desecrated the altar and urinated on Bibles. The attackers also scrawled ‘Allah is Great’ on the walls of the Lutheran church.
The mob beat up the pastor’s teenage son, and, according to a press report, tried to set him on fire. He had to be taken to hospital. Militants later prevented the fire brigade entering the compound to put out the flames, according to witnesses.
Mardan is home to around 1,000 Christian families, most of whom are employed as janitors and sanitary workers. Poverty is rife.
Release partners say police were warned of the pending attack yet failed to provide adequate security.
Rev. Binyameen Barkat, of the Church of Pakistan, told our partner: ‘We were under threats of such attacks since last week and had requested the local administration to provide security to the church property, which they did. However, it was not enough to stop the aggressive armed men.’
Pakistan’s president has described the attack on St Paul’s church as ‘reprehensible’ and ‘un-Islamic’. President Zardari has called on the provincial authorities to protect Christian churches from the continuing backlash by extremist Islamic groups.
The Bishop of Peshawar has called for prayer and other church leaders are appealing for calm. The Moderator of Church of Pakistan, Rt. Rev. Bishop Samuel Azaraih, has condemned the incident, calling on faith leaders to put out the fires fanned by the film the Innocence of Muslims.
The Californian-produced internet movie has stirred up riots and protests around the Islamic world. Release partners in Pakistan say: ‘People have been burning houses, looting banks and attacking the American Consulate. In almost every city processions and protests have been staged.’
Hundreds of Christians took part in a march in Sahiwal on Sunday (Sept 23) to condemn the film. One of the leaders told the Dawn newspaper: ‘We came out to show solidarity with our Muslim brothers.’
‘Since publication of the Mohammed cartoons in Denmark in 2005 there have been a number of similar events that have provoked reactions in Muslim areas,’ says Release UK Director, Colin King. ‘This attack on St Paul’s church appears, sadly, to be just another example of vulnerable Christians living in the Islamic world who are forced to pay the price for the irresponsible actions of others.
‘In Pakistan Christians have been under growing threat from mobs taking revenge over alleged acts of blasphemy. This film has only made the situation worse for them and for equally poor and marginalised believers in other countries.’