- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 2, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | Hundreds of rioting Muslims attacked Christians in eastern Pakistan on Saturday, burning and looting their homes in a rampage that killed six Christians, including a child, and wounded 10 others in the latest violence against minorities in the conservative Muslim country.

The unrest started late Thursday, when members of a banned extremist Muslim organization began torching Christian homes in a village in the Punjabi city of Gojra after allegations that a Koran had been defaced, Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti said.

Violence flared again Saturday, when shots were fired on a peaceful Muslim rally passing by a Christian neighborhood, said local minister Dost Mohammad Khosa. It was not clear who fired the shots, he added.

Television footage showed baton-wielding crowds running through the streets, blocking traffic and a railway line. Ransacked furniture lay outside blackened and burning homes, while a group of people rushed a man with burn injuries on a wooden hand-pulled cart through the streets.

Gunfire could also be heard.

Authorities said the six people killed included a child and four women. Mr. Bhatti said about 40 Christian homes had been burned since Thursday.

Kamran Michael, provincial minister for minorities, said the situation remained tense into the night, although police had dispersed the mob. He said 10 people had been wounded, four by gunshots, and two of those were in critical condition.

Paramilitary troops were sent to Gojra to help police control the situation, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said.

Christians make up a tiny minority of Pakistan’s predominantly Sunni Muslim population of 160 million people. Although the two communities generally live peacefully, Muslim radicals have periodically targeted churches and Christians.

Minorities also face intimidation from discriminatory laws, including one that carries the death penalty for using derogatory language against Islam, the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad. The law is often misused to settle personal scores and rivalries.

Mr. Bhatti said the attackers belonged to the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba group, which is accused of attacks against security forces and of carrying out bombings at public places in recent years.

Elsewhere, police officials said Saturday they had arrested a member of an outlawed al Qaeda-linked group that was suspected of involvement in the 2002 beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Rao Shakir, a purported member of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an offshoot of Sipah-e-Sahaba, was arrested on the outskirts of Islamabad late Friday, a police official said.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is a banned Sunni Muslim militant group linked to both the Taliban and al Qaeda that has been blamed for killing scores of minority Shi’ites across Pakistan.

Its members have been accused of attacks against Westerners in Karachi, including Mr. Pearl’s killing and the September 2008 truck bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad.

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