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Attack on church leaders in Pakistan leaves Christians fearful  

04 February 2022

Alamy

The casket of the Revd William Siraj is carried during his funeral service at the All Saints, Peshawar, in Pakistan, on Monday

The casket of the Revd William Siraj is carried during his funeral service at the All Saints, Peshawar, in Pakistan, on Monday

THE shooting of two Church of Pakistan pastors in what police have called a terrorist act has reignited “fear and terror” among Christians in the city of Peshawar, nine years after a suicide bombing in which scores of worshippers were killed (News, 27 September 2013).

William Siraj, aged 75, was shot dead by two gunmen on a motorbike on Sunday as he and the Revd Patrick Naeem were driving home after conducting the morning service at a church on the outskirts of Peshawar. Mr Naeem was taken to hospital with a bullet wound, but was later discharged. Another presbyter travelling with them was uninjured.

No group has claimed responsibility for the killing, which occurred amid a resurgence in Islamist militant attacks along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The Capital City Police Officer Abbas Ahsan said that police and counter-terrorism officials were investigating the incident. “It can be said that members of the minority community were targeted. So it was a terrorist act.”

The Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, Dr Azad Marshall, condemned the attack, and tweeted: “We demand justice and the protection of Christians by the government of Pakistan.” Mr Naeem is a presbyter at All Saints’, Peshawar; Mr Siraj was a senior lay pastor.

Hundreds of people filled All Saints’ on Monday for the funeral of Pastor Siraj, as he was known. A parishioner, Waheed Masih, told Reuters: “The killing . . . has created panic, and nobody wants to leave their homes due to fear and terror.”

On the same day, the Prime Minister’s special assistant on religious harmony, Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, met the Bishop of Peshawar, the Most Revd Humphrey Peters, and other Christian leaders at St John’s, Peshawar. “We and the Christian community are united,” Mr Ashrafi said. He told them that “the attack on the pastor was an attack on the [whole] country,” and that the police would bring those responsible to justice, the Pakistani daily Dawn reported.

All Saints’, Peshawar, was the site of the deadliest-ever attack on Christians in Pakistan. In September 2013, two suicide bombers exploded devices outside the church as hundreds of worshippers were leaving the Sunday service. According to church sources, as many as 127 people were killed, including an estimated 37 children, and a further 170 were injured. A Taliban-linked group, TTP Jundullah, claimed responsibility.

Pastor Siraj lost his son-in-law in the bombing, and afterwards, according to the Roman Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, would often go “knocking on the doors of victims’ families, praying with them and reassuring them of his support”.

He and Mr Naeem died after taking a service at a small church set up in memory of those killed in the 2013 attack: the Martyrs of the All Saints’ Church. Some parishioners who had lost friends and family in 2013 moved near by afterwards, and the area became “a comfort zone” for those who “struggled to get on with their lives”, Reuters noted.

The Church of Pakistan is a union of Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran Churches, within the Anglican Communion.

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