03/05/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Muslims attack Christian community in Punjab

One woman has been killed, and 28 people have been injured at the Presbyterian church in Songo. Violence is on the rise in the Swat Valley and in the northern regions. Thousands of people are fleeing after the introduction of sharia, including many teachers and entire families. In Takhtbhai, in the district of Mardan, there have been bomb attacks on 16 music stores.

Peshawar (AsiaNews/Agencies) - One woman has died and 28 people have been injured in an attack on the Presbyterian Christian community in the village of Songo, in the district of Gujranwala, province of Punjab. The attack took place on the evening of March 2: at 8 p.m., a group of Muslim inhabitants opened fire on the faithful who had gathered in the church for prayer. The woman, named Shakeela, died on the spot, while other members of the faithful suffered injuries of various kinds while they were seeking to flee from the bullets or to protect the pastor. The attackers broke the windows of the church, destroyed the Bibles and the other prayer books, and removed the cross from the roof of the building.

The victims of the attacks say that this was a premeditated action, and recount that in the previous weeks they had received a number of threats from the attackers. The authors of the attack have been identified, and a report against them has been filed at the local police station. The Pakistan Christian Post says that for now, the security forces have turned down the request for investigations on the attackers. For this reason, the burial of the woman's body has been delayed, to permit an autopsy in evidence of the attack.

The attack in Songo is added to a long list of violent events that are now being seen more or less everywhere in Punjab and in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). The attacks are carried out by the Taliban, but also by ordinary people, and they are not coming to an end in the Swat Valley, where a fragile ceasefire has been attained by the government, thanks to the concession of introducing sharia in that district and in the district of Malakand.

During the night of March 5, the Taliban blew up 16 CD and DVD stores in Takhtbhai, in the district of Mardan northeast of Peshawar, the capital of the NWFP. It is one of the many places in the province that in recent months have come under the grip of the Taliban. In February, it was the theater of attacks against girls' schools, carried out by Islamic fundamentalists, and in spite of the fact that the agreement between the Taliban and the government provides for the reopening of schools to girls, many are afraid of fresh violence.

Since the beginning of the year, people have been abandoning the Swat Valley by the thousands. These include many families and a number of teachers, who have formally stated that they are going on vacation. One mother who left the district recounts: "All the best teachers from my children's schools have left. I do not think they will go back. According to my relatives there, many children have gone back to school, but there are now too few teachers."

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