- Michael Herrera
Gunmen kill priest on his way home from church in Pakistan
In what police called a “terrorist act,” two unidentified men followed a pastor returning home in his car after a Sunday worship service and shot him to death in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar, which in 2013 was the scene of one of the deadliest attacks on Christians in the country.
The pastor, identified as 75-year-old William Siraj of Shaheed-e-All Saints Church from the Church of Pakistan denomination comprising Methodist and Anglican churches, was shot twice in the abdomen as he and his colleague, identified as Pastor Patrick Naeem, were driving home from church on Sunday.
The shooting occurred near Ring Road in the city’s Gulbahar area, leaving Pastor Siraj dead and Pastor Naeem injured, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported, adding that Naeem had been discharged from the hospital where he was treated for minor injuries.
Pastor Siraj’s body had been handed over to his family.
News channels showed emergency services removing the pastor from the car as people chanted “Long live Jesus Christ” while carrying his body on a bed through the streets to a house, according to Reuters.
“We demand justice and protection of Christians from the Government of Pakistan,” tweeted Bishop Azad Marshall from the Church of Pakistan.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby also responded to the news of the attack. “… We pray for the light of Christ’s justice, hope and peace for our sisters and brothers in the Church of Pakistan,” he wrote on Twitter.
Capital City Police Officer Abbas Ahsan called it a “terror attack” and said, “We are determined to protect minorities.”
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s Chief Minister Mahmood Khan offered his condolences to the Christian community and the family of the deceased.
On Saturday, Pakistan’s interior minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed warned of possible terrorist strikes across the country over the next two months as security agencies had learned about sleeper cells of militant outfits in that region, The Times of India reported.
No one had claimed responsibility for the shooting as of Monday.
The country’s northwestern areas bordering Afghanistan have seen a rise in militant attacks on security forces in recent days, many of them claimed by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which is close to the Afghan Taliban, Reuters said.
In 2013, at least 81 Christians were killed after two suicide bombers blew themselves up at a church belonging to the Church of Pakistan denomination in Peshawar as hundreds of worshipers were leaving Sunday mass.
About 400 worshipers were exchanging greetings after the service at the 130-year-old All Saints Church when the two bombers, each carrying about 13 pounds of explosives, launched the attack. The walls were pockmarked with ball bearings that had been packed into the bombs to cause maximum carnage in the busy church.
There are about 70,000 Christians in Peshawar. The community accounts for about 2% of the 180 million people in Pakistan.
Muslim minorities, including Shias and Ahmaddiyas, also often face attacks by Sunni terror groups in Pakistan.