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 Thursday, 26 December, 2002, 14:25 GMT
Pakistan arrests after church attack
Scene of attack (AP)
A hand grenade was thrown during the service
Four people including an Islamic cleric have been detained in Pakistan after a fatal attack on a church on Christmas Day.

Unidentified assailants threw a grenade at a church in Pakistan's central Punjab province, killing three young girls.

At least 12 others were injured in the attack at Daska, near Lahore.

The four people detained on Thursday are reported to be members of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, a banned militant group fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.

"We have taken people into custody, including a local Islamic prayer leader who is believed to have instigated the attack," Sialkot district police chief Shahid Iqbal told AFP.

The cleric is said to be known for his fiery speeches.

Pakistani Christians bury attack victims in Bahwalpur
Pakistani Christians have suffered many attacks
The BBC's Zaffar Abbas in Islamabad says the attack came as police began lowering their guard after tightening security across Pakistan to protect churches during Christmas.

Attacks on Christians in Pakistan in the past year have left about 40 people dead.

Most have been blamed on Islamic militants with links to al-Qaeda, who are angry at Pakistan's support for the United States-led war against international terrorism. Militants see that as a war against Islam.

Masked

"Two masked men threw a hand grenade on the church during the service," a police official said.

He said the incident took place at 2030 (1530 GMT) in a village church some 20 kilometres (13 miles) from Daska.

Man consoles women grieving over the death of a relative in the Karachi attack
Seven people were shot in the head in September
One child was killed instantly, and a woman died on her way to hospital, doctors said. Four of the injured remained in a critical condition.

No one has said they carried out the attack, but the authorities suspect militants of one of several banned Islamic groups.

Earlier, Pakistani security officials said they found a shopping bag containing two grenades and 20 shell casings in bushes about 100 metres from St Thomas' Protestant Church in Islamabad.

"I don't know what the motive was of the people who left these two hand grenades and some other ammunition," a senior interior ministry official, Brigadier Javed Cheema, told the Associated Press news agency.

Christian fears

In the last major attack against Christians in September, two gunmen entered the third-floor offices of the Institute for Peace and Justice (IPJ) charity in Karachi, shooting seven people before escaping.

The deaths sparked a wave of anger in the community and were linked to previous attacks on the Christian minority, which have been blamed on Islamic militants.

Security point at church near Lahore
Security at Christian sites around the country is tight
But in October, a man suspected of involvement in the attack was released because of lack of evidence.

Police say recent investigations suggest that the killings at the IPJ might have been the result of internal rivalries within the local Christian community in the city.

The attack caused particular shock because of the way it was carried out.

All the victims had had their hands tied and their mouths covered with tape.

They had then been shot in the head.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Zafar Abbas reports from Islamabad
"More than 50 women and children were attending a late evening service"
Musharraf's Pakistan

Democracy challenge

Militant threat

Background

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

BBC WORLD SERVICE
See also:

25 Dec 02 | South Asia
23 Oct 02 | South Asia
29 Sep 02 | South Asia
25 Sep 02 | South Asia
09 Aug 02 | South Asia
21 Sep 02 | South Asia
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