05/19/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Pakistani Christians "number one target " after the death of Bin Laden

by Jibran Khan
Fr. Javed Gill, parish priest in Abbotabad, confirms that the situation in the town is still "critical" for religious minorities. The killing of the Al Qaeda leader has increased fears and alert levels. Prayer and fasting for peace in the region.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - The situation in Abbotabad is "critical" for religious minorities, who are "fasting and praying for peace in the region", Fr Javed Akram Gill, a parish priest in the town where he was killed Osama Bin Laden tells AsiaNews. The priest confirms that the death of the Al Qaeda "has raised fears within the Christian community" because "every time the Americans say or do something, Christians [in Pakistan] become the number one target." Together with the Catholics, the faithful of other Christian denominations "prefer to stay inside" and their leaders refrain from making pastoral visits.

Bin Laden, founder of Al Qaeda was killed on May 2 in a U.S special forces raid in Abbotabad, about 60 km from Islamabad. His death sparked panic and fear in the town. Yesterday, the website of U.S. intelligence SITE released the contents of the last message of bin Laden, published on jihadist forums. In the 12 minute long audio file, he celebrates the Arab revolution in Egypt and Tunisia, calling it a "historic opportunity" for change. Meanwhile, the interim leadership of Al Qaeda is now headed by Saif al-Adel, an long-standing Egyptian terrorist, ahead of the official investiture of the number two al-Zawahiri.

Even today, two weeks after the raid, officials and analysts are wondering how it was possible for Bin Laden, the world’s most hunted man, to live so long and undisturbed in an area with a concentration of military headquarters, including the most important military academy. The day news of the Al Qaeda leaders death was reported, Fr. Gill says, Christians "were holed up inside their homes and asked us to keep a low profile." The same evening a meeting was held in the parish church of St. Peter, the faithful took part in mass to "establish security measures and the strategy for the coming days."

The priest describes how he was unable to "leave home for several days," virtually bringing "Church activities, pastoral visits to a standstill," while in town "was on a state of maximum alert." "The alarm level - he adds - has never been so high in Abbotabad: all major roads closed." The 160 Catholic faithful have constantly called Fr. Gill, recounting their fear of becoming victims of Islamic fundamentalists revenge. "The Christian families in the district of Bilal – he adds - where Bin Laden’s residence was located, have all fled to other places."

Fr. Javed Gill speaks of a "very low turn out for Mass," although the military have set up a strict security system around places of worship. "The people - he says - fear possible attacks" because they are aware that "every time the Americans say or do something, Christians [in Pakistan] become the number one target." Last year, for example, when the U.S. pastor Terry Jones announced plans to burn the Koran, we were subjected to threats. "We raised protective walls - he said - but they threw stones and empty bottles against the church."

Even members of other Christian denominations remain barricaded in their houses, in an area where "for many years there hasn’t even been a meeting or group Bible study," because of pressure from the local fringe. The situation in Abbotabad remains "critical" for religious minorities, concludes the priest, which is why Christians “pray and fast for peace in the region. "
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