By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Thousands of Muslims burned down a Lutheran church as well as its school and adjacent homes in Pakistan Friday, September 21, injuring several Christians in violent protests against an anti-Islam film that elsewhere killed dozens of Pakistanis, church sources and rights activists told BosNewsLife.
In published remarks, Lutheran Bishop Humphrey Peter said a crowd of some 8,000 people, many of them carrying petrol, attacked the St.Paul Church complex in Mardan city in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province.
“The St.Paul Church, its school and the houses of the principal and pastor along with a vehicle were burned by a mob,” he said in a statement released by Pakistan-based rights group World Vision In Progress (WVIP).
Several people staying inside the church complex were beaten, added WVIP Executive Director Farrukh H. Saif.
Saif suggested that many more people could have been killed or injured in Friday’s church attack.
“Nearly 500 students are studying at the primary and secondary school of the Lutheran church. But nobody was there now because it was a holiday in Pakistan,” he told BosNewsLife.
Saif said that elsewhere in Pakistan at least 22 people died in clashes between Muslim protesters and security forces.
“According to the reports we received from hospital sources in the city of Karachi alone there were 15 killings, while four others died in Peshawar, two in other parts of Punjab province and at least one in the capital Islamabad.”
Additionally “hundreds were injured,” he said.
More than 100 were wounded in Karachi alone, according to Allah Bachayo Memon, spokesman of the chief minister of Sindh province.
He told reporters about 20 vehicles, three banks and five cinemas were set on fire.
Crowds also set two cinemas ablaze and ransacked shops in the northwestern city of Peshawar, clashing with riot police who fired tear gas in deadly clashes there, witnesses said.
Security forces reportedly fired in the air in Peshawar and the eastern city of Lahore to keep protesters away from U.S. consulates.
Police also fired tear gas at about 1,000 protesters in Islamabad, news reports said.
Violence has erupted in Pakistan and other nations after excerpts of the “Innocence of Muslims” movie were posted on the video-sharing YouTube website in English and Arabic.
The film depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a caricature.
‘DAY OF LOVE’
Friday’s clashes overshadowed calls by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf for peaceful protests and a “Day of Love” for Prophet Mohammad.
Ashraf made clear however that he understood the anger, saying an attack on Islam’s founder was “an attack on the whole 1.5 billion Muslims”.
The U.S. embassy in Pakistan has run television spots, one featuring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying Washington had nothing to do with the film about Mohammad.
That did little to calm down WVIP activists. WVIP, which is closely investigating the plight of Christians, says it remains concerned about the impact on minority Christians of the anti-Islam film.
The group already supports hundreds of Christians who were forced to flee separate violence in a slum in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad last month, Saif told BosNewsLife.
“Extremists [previously also] burnt the churches, houses , schools, and other different properties of Christians,” the advocacy official recalled.
Said also expressed concern that the latest outrage over the film will lead to further misuse of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws.
Friday’s violence underscored that “if fanatics can burn properties and other belongings of Pakistani Muslims who have nothing to do with the movie, then think about those innocent Christians who were falsely accused under the same blasphemy issues,” he said.
He said the legislation has been used to attack and imprison several Christians, including Rimsha Masih, a mentally challenged girl and Asia Bibi, a mother of five, as well as Christians Sajid Masih, Amanat Masih, Yousaf Masih, Fanish Robert “and many others”.
Minority Christians in countries have also expressed worries that the outrage over the anti-Islam film will increase persecution.
Western diplomatic missions in Muslim nations tightened security ahead of Friday prayers.
However on Friday, September 21, protests went off mainly peacefully in the Arab world, where last week several embassies were attacked and the U.S. envoy to Libya was killed in an initial burst of unrest over the film.
France ordered its embassies, schools and cultural centers to shut in a score of countries, but the bloodiest demonstrations appeared to have happen in Pakistan on Friday, September 21.
The French authorities also banned demonstrations over the anti-Islam film and against the more recent publication of cartoons denigrating Prophet Mohammad.
Tunisia’s Islamist-led government said it too had banned protests against the images published by French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. That decision came after four people were killed and almost 30 wounded when the U.S. embassy in Tunis was stormed last week in a separate demonstration over the anti-Islam film.