CHIANWALA, Pakistan (AP) Frightened Christians yesterday stayed away from services in this tiny Pakistani village, where a Christmas Day attack killed three girls and wounded 13 others. Many said they were too traumatized to return to their church.
“There are no Sunday services in the church because people can’t bring themselves to visit it,” said the Rev. Rehmat Asim, head of the Protestant congregation, outside his simple, cottage-sized church. “They’re in shock.”
Two assailants in burkas the all-encompassing garment worn by women in some Islamic countries burst into the white cement church on Christmas Day and tossed grenades at about 40 worshippers. Blood still stains the floors and walls.
“Nobody has visited it after the attack, and I do not have the courage to wash the church because it was such a big tragedy,” Mr. Asim said.
Six persons have been arrested and five others are being sought.
One of those detained was local Muslim cleric Mohammed Afzar, who reportedly told his congregation days before the attack that it was their sacred duty to kill Christians.
The suspects are believed to be affiliated with the outlawed organization Jaish-e-Mohammed, or Army of Mohammed, which is known to have links with al Qaeda and to have trained its operatives in neighboring Afghanistan.
No charges have been filed and police yesterday didn’t sound optimistic.
“There is no major breakthrough yet, but we are still investigating,” said Shahid Iqbal, chief of police in Sialkot, the district headquarters for Chianwala.
Arif Masih, 26, Pakistani Christian in this dirt-poor village that is home to mainly Muslim farmworkers, said she has been frightened for months by Mr. Afzar.
“He had been announcing since the September 11 attacks in the United States that it is religiously rewarding to kill Christians and it is obligatory for every Muslim to eat a Christian for breakfast every day,” she said.
This predominantly Muslim nation of 140 million people has 3.8 million Christians. The government has condemned the attack.
The government said last week it would pay $1,700 to relatives of each of the three girls killed, and $430 to each of the wounded.