- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 26, 2002

LAHORE, Pakistan Two assailants covered in burkas, a traditional women's garb, tossed a grenade at a small church during Christmas services in a Pakistani village yesterday, killing three persons and wounding 11, police said.
All three of the dead and most of the wounded were women or girls.The attack occurred in the village of Chianwala, in Daska township, about 40 miles northwest of Lahore, police said. At least one of the dead was a young girl, said Brigadier Javed Cheema of the Interior Ministry.
Security had been increased in churches ahead of Christmas celebrations around this mostly Muslim nation, which has seen a string of Islamic militant attacks targeting Christians this year.
Also yesterday, police said they found explosives and ammunition near a church in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. Church officials feared they had been the intended target of an attack.
In Chianwala, about 40 Pakistani people, mostly women and children, were attending a Christmas Day service at the church when the attack occurred yesterday evening.
The two attackers escaped after the attack, said Iftikhar Ahmed, spokesman for the Interior Ministry. Four of the injured were in critical condition, said Malik Mohammed Iqbal, chief of police in the nearby city of Gujranwala.
Witnesses said the attackers wore burkas, the traditional all-encompassing garment worn by women in some Islamic countries, said Amanat Ali, a police official in Daska.
But it was not clear whether the attackers were women or men. Mr. Ali said witnesses reported the attackers were taller than most women.
Male Islamic militants in neighboring Afghanistan have worn burkas to hide their identities in at least one recent attack there.
Since Pakistan lent its support to the U.S.-led military campaign to overthrow Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban, attacks on Christians by Islamic militants have killed about 30 people and injured at least 100.
Yesterday, Pakistani security officials said they found a shopping bag in bushes containing two handmade grenades and 20 shell casings about 100 yards from Islamabad's St. Thomas' Protestant Church. The Interior Ministry spokesman said the motive for leaving the weapons was not certain.
In the days leading up to Christmas, more than a half-dozen policemen cradling rifles had been posted around the church.
Church officials said they feared the weapons had been left as part of a planned attack targeting them. Still, Christmas services were held as scheduled.
"It's God's promise that he will be with us," the church's pastor, the Rev. Irshad John, said. "It was God who changed the plans of those people."
There have been four deadly attacks on Christians in Pakistan this year. The last was on Sept. 25, when gunmen entered the offices of a Christian welfare organization in Karachi, tied seven employees to their chairs and shot each in the head, execution style.
On March 17, a grenade attack on a Protestant church in Islamabad killed five persons, including a U.S. Embassy employee and her 17-year-old daughter.
On Aug. 5, assailants raided a Christian school filled with foreign children in Murree, 40 miles east of Islamabad. Six Pakistanis were killed, including guards and non-teaching staff.
And on Aug. 9, attackers hurled grenades at worshippers at a church on the grounds of a Presbyterian hospital in Taxila, about 25 miles west of Islamabad, killing four persons.
Meanwhile, in neighboring India, two persons were killed and 20 injured when two rockets hit near a market crowded with shoppers out marking the Christmas holiday yesterday.
The two rockets were fired within a span of 10 minutes toward the market in Guwahati, capital of northeastern Assam state, police said.
The first rocket fell on a cluster of houses of railroad employees, killing a woman and a child, Inspector General of Police Khagen Sharma said. The second rocket hit two cars on a busy street, wounding at least 17 persons, including those inside the cars.
Two persons wounded in the second attack one of them a former member of the Indian Parliament were in critical condition, Inspector Sharma said.
The attacks in Guwahati came after a gang armed with crude bombs attacked a packed church on Christmas Eve near Calcutta, wounding six persons. The assailants grabbed valuables from hundreds in the congregation and raided a church safe before fleeing. Police said robbery appeared to be the sole motive in that attack.
The church's priest was injured in the attack Tuesday night in Malipota, a town close to the India-Bangladesh border.

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