By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Allegations of a Koran being defiled are behind the grisly murder of eight members of a Christian family in Pakistan and the burning of dozens of Christian homes. Residents fear many more bodies may still be buried in the rubble.
According to London’s TimesOnline, hundreds of armed supporters of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an outlawed Islamic militant group believed to have links to al-Qaeda, attacked Christians in the town of Gojra on Saturday after Muslims accused three Christian youth of burning a copy of the Koran. The youths denied the allegations, but clerics called for their death anyway.
On Aug. 1, a mob of enraged Muslims poured into the town, opening fire indiscriminately, throwing petrol bombs and looting homes as thousands of frightened Christians ran for safety. Eight members of a family were burned to death in their home, including a seven year-old child. Four women and two men were among the dead.
“They were shouting anti-Christian slogans and attacked our houses,” said Rafiq Masih, a resident of the predominantly Christian colony. Residents said that police stood aside while the mob went on the rampage. “We kept begging for protection, but police did not take action,” Mr Masih said.
Local officials say two other Christians died of gunshot wounds during the melee, but residents say the casualties are much higher. One claimed that the number of dead could be in the dozens as many bodies were still buried under the rubble.
Security in Gojra, which has a Christian population of about 50,000, was tightened yesterday as funerals were held for the eight victims. Christians make up a small minority of Pakistan’s 160 million people and have been the target of attacks by Islamic extremists before, particularly in eastern Punjab.
Christians also face intimidation because of discriminatory blasphemy laws, including one that carries the death penalty for defiling the Koran and images of the Prophet Muhammad. The law is often misused to settle personal scores.
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