- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 24, 2002

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Four Pakistani militants boasted to a parish priest yesterday that they killed 16 members of his congregation and a policeman in a machine-gun attack.

The four, members of the banned Islamic extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, met the Rev. Roccus Patras in a police cell after being arrested for the Oct. 28 massacre at a Sunday service.

"They said they were satisfied with what they had done," Father Patras said. "They said it was because of the American attack on Afghanistan.

"They said a lot of Muslims were killed there, but nobody was taking any steps to protest, so that's why they planned to kill Christians here in Pakistan."

Eight masked men riding motorcycles raked the congregation at St. Dominic's Roman Catholic Church in Bahawalpur city with automatic gunfire as worshippers gathered on a warn autumn morning.

Iftikhar Ahmed, deputy inspector-general of Punjab provincial police, said yesterday that three of the killers were still on the run and another was killed in an earlier encounter with the police. He said the four in custody would be charged within two weeks.

The St. Dominic's attack was the worst single massacre of Christians in Pakistan's 54-year history and came shortly after President Pervez Musharraf joined the U.S. war against the Taliban and al Qaeda in neighboring Afghanistan.

That stance has prompted a spate of attacks by militant Islamic groups in Pakistan.

They included a grenade attack on a church in Islamabad, the capital, in March, which killed five persons, including an American mother and daughter from the nearby U.S. Embassy.

Although Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has traditionally targeted Muslims from the rival Shi'ite sect, police believe they may now be working with groups connected to al Qaeda to target Westerners and the Pakistani government.

The groups seek revenge for the collapse of the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan and Gen. Musharraf's crackdown on militant Islamic groups.

Police have detained dozens of suspected militants, many of them Lashkar-e-Jhangvi members, in connection with a June 14 car bombing outside the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, which killed 12 persons, and a May 8 suicide bombing outside the Sheraton Hotel in Karachi, which killed 11 French engineers and three other persons, including the bomber.

Police working with the FBI are also examining possible links between the bombings and the kidnapping and slaying of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl this year.

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