By BosNewsLife Asia Service
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)-- Suspected Islamic militants shot and killed a Christian lawyer, his wife and their five children in northwestern Pakistan, just days after a pastor nearly died in a seperate attack linked to Muslim extremism, local Christians and rights activists said Friday, October 1.
Police found the bodies of attorney and evangelist Edwin Paul and his family at their home in Haripur, a small town near Abbotabad in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, previously known as the North-West Frontier Province, said Haripur Station House Officer Maqbool Khan.
The victim and his wife Ruby Paul, along with their five children ages 6 to 17, had been shot to death, he said. "On September 28 at around 8 a.m., we received a call from Sher Khan colony that people heard gunshots, and there was a group of people who ran from a house and drove away," Khan said. "We went and found seven bodies in a house."
Paul’s Muslim neighbor, Mushtaq Khan, told reporters a group of armed men had threatened the lawyer the previous day. "On Monday a group of armed men stopped Paul and took him by the collar and said, ‘Leave the town in 24 hours – we know how to throw out Christians, we will not allow even a single Christian to live here. We will hang them all in the streets, so that no Christian would ever dare to enter the Hazara land."
Local Christians said Muslim militants killed Paul because he defended a Christian taxi driver in Haripur who had received a loan of 150,000 rupees (US$1,725) tp buy a taxi from an influential Muslim whose lending network extends to some parts of Punjab Province.
Noor Khan agreed that to pay back 224,000 rupees (US$2,580) after one year, but said the Muslim business man had raised interest to 500 percent because he was a Christian, demanding back 1.12 million rupees [US$12,893].
Paul took Mehboob and the documents of the original loan agreement to the Haripur police station, Mehboob said. News of the attack came shortly after three Muslims reportedly beat a pastor and left him for dead in the Pakistani village of Sanda Chistana, Pakistan.
Washington-based Christian rights group International Christian Concern (ICC) said Patras Sani, pastor of the Church of God Ministries, was attacked September 21 while riding on a motorcycle when the Muslims hit him with a wooden rod to his face.
After being thrown off his motorcycle, they continued to assault him, ICC said. The pastor reportedly lost consciousness and they left him for dead. They also damaged his motorcycle and stole 3700 Pakistani Rupees ($43), according to rights activists.
Passersby found Sani and took him to Shrife hospital, Christians said.
"Even though we are beaten by radicals and we are persecuted by Muslims, we shouldn’t stop preaching the Word of God," Sani explained in remarks distributed by ICC.
However, "I am not afraid of persecution and I will continue to preach the Word of God. Many Muslims come to our meetings and receive healing and God is setting many hearts free," he said.
The attacks are the latest in a series of reported incidents against minority Christians in Pakistan, a heavily Muslim nation, where Islamic militants, with links to Taliban and al-Qaida, and their suppoters have increased their influence, despite efforts by the American military and Pakistani forces to stop them.
Earlier in September, Muslims reportedly attacked dozens of Christians, including one already cleared of blasphemy charges, in Punjab Province's Gujrat district. The attacks included an assault upon Tariq Gill, his father, mother and other Christians and 10 similar attacks on the Christian colony of Mohalla Kalupura, Gujrat city, said Reverend Suleman Nasri Khan and Bishop Shamas Pervaiz.
About 40 Muslims, some with assault rifles and pistols, others with axes and clubs -- beat some Christians so badly that they were left for dead, said Khan.
The Lorry Adda Police Station House Officer, inspector Riaz Qaddar, said that "no stone would be left unturned" to apprehend the gunmen, but Christians remain skeptical.
Pastor Khan said he led a protest in September at the Islamabad National Press Club with more than 250 Christians despite an attempt by Inspector Qaddar to arrest them before they arrived. "But the invisible hand of Almighty God helped us, and we safely made it to Islamabad," Khan said. "Although the government has clamped a ban on all sorts of processions and demonstrations, we successfully staged the sit-in before National Press Club."
ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, Jonathan Racho, said his group is "deeply concerned with the ongoing attacks" against Christians in Pakistan. "We urge Pakistani officials to ensure the rights of Christian minorities in the country to worship freely." (With reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos, Joseph C. DeCaro and George Whitten).