04/09/2005, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Alleged Easter attackers arrested in Lahore

Lahore (AsiaNews/UCAN) – Pakistani police arrested four men in connection with an attack against the new Apostolic Church on Eastern Sunday.

Two of the men were arrested on the day of the incident; the two others were identified on March 31. All four who are now in custody are Muslim.

The church that was attacked is in Khamba village in Wapda Town, a suburb of Lahore, 220 kilometres south-east from Islamabad.

The four men reportedly opened fire on churchgoers at around 10 am (GMT+5) on March 27 as the congregation was singing the final hymn.

Irshad Masih, 20, died on the spot, and eight other worshippers were wounded. The condition of one of them remains critical.

Masih was buried on March 28 after the authorities ordered an autopsy be performed on his body. Mgr Alexander John Malik, Bishop of Lahore, presided over the funeral service.

Pervaz Jamal, a Lahore Catholic, filed a complaint with the local police station. "On the same day that we heard about the incident, I rushed to the place to help the people. Local Christians were too frightened to go to the police station [to report the incident]," he said.

Locals were eager to point out that relations between Christians and Muslims have always been good overall, and that the police was able to stop some of the suspects thanks to the cooperation of the Muslim community.

The attack does not seem to be religiously motivated; land seems to be at its root. With urban sprawl around Lahore gobbling up rural villages the value of land is going up.

Real estate speculators have begun pressuring the Christian community to give up their church and graveyard, a request they refused.

That piece of land is estimated to be worth 59.5 million rupees (about US$ 1 million).

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