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27 February 2017

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02/16/2017 PAKISTAN

Taliban attackers warn churches that they can be targets if they back the government

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a group linked to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, is responsible for the attack on the Punjab Assembly, whose death toll rose to 14 victims. Christian, Sikh, and Muslim places of worship are not Taliban targets as long as they keep their distance from the government.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – The Islamic group linked to the Taliban that carried out the attack in front of the Punjab Assembly in Lahore that left 14 dead has issued a warning against Pakistan’s Catholic churches and minority places of worship saying that they will not be touched if they keep their distance from government institutions.

Saeeda Deep, founder of the Institute of Peace and Secular Studies, expressed concern to AsiaNews about the security of minority religious places.

"Churches and similar buildings are soft targets compared to highly secured government buildings,” she said. “The terrorists know they will have public support for attacking religious minorities. The most important thing is that they are only trained to kill and simply find a justification", she said.

In a video, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which claimed responsibility for the attack against the pharmacists protest, warned that, "Churches, (Hindu) temples, gurdawaras (Sikh temples) and all the religious places of non-Muslims are not included in our targets until and unless these places are used by our enemies," namely the Pakistani government and military responsible for 2007 operation that killed radical leader Abdul Rashid Ghazi at the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), besieged for days by the army.

In a video the group announced the launch of "Operation Ghazi” against all those who “promote themselves as the contenders of Nabuwat (prophethood) and those people who are involved in the blasphemy regarding the prophet”. The reference here is to Ahmadis, a Muslim community deemed heretical.

For Archbishop Joseph Coutts, head of the Catholic Church in Pakistan, it is hard to understand the Taliban. "It depends on what they think, how they in interpret the enemy and link things. They are very slippery like a snake in the grass.”

“They can make anything out of a visiting army officer in a Church or a police guard on duty during Sunday Mass. It is a different kind of guerrilla warfare and we have to learn to protect ourselves.”

"Even the courts are afraid to sentence Taliban and people who are inspired by their philosophy,” noted Saeeda Deep. “The hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed killer of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, last year was a rarity. Bringing evidence against such terrorists means inviting death threats."

Although Fr Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Pakistani Bishops' Conference, warns against causing hysteria, he admits that the Taliban can use social media to "influence many viewers."

The situation gets thornier considering that Jamaat-ul-Ahrar was responsible for the attack last Easter in a Lahore park that killed 70 people, mostly Muslims.

"We can only speak of peace and call on such groups to leave terrorism,” he said. “We are not demanding exclusive security but it is the government’s duty to protect all Pakistani citizens, irrespective of their faith" he added.






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