05/02/2011, 00.00
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Christians are an “easy target” for reprisal after Bin Laden’s death, says Mgr Saldanha

The archbishop emeritus of Lahore calls for greater protection for his community, fearing attacks by fundamentalist groups. Christian institutions, schools and organisations are closed for fear of violence. Extremist groups reject claims that the al-Qaeda leader is dead. A former Pakistani intelligence chief calls the operation an election stunt by Barack Obama. Two more christians are victims of violence.
Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Christian institutions, schools and organisations in Pakistan have closed down today for fear of attacks. Many fear that the operation by US Special Forces that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden could spark a negative reaction by Muslims against the religious minority. Mgr Lawrence John Saldanha, archbishop emeritus of Lahore, calls for greater protection for Christians, an “easy target” for possible reprisal. Meanwhile, a number of Islamic fundamentalism groups have issued statements, disputing claims that the al Qaeda leader was killed. In Pakistan’s civil society, anger and happiness are the prevailing emotions. For their part, the government and president of Pakistan are preparing to issue a “balanced” statement to avoid stoking tensions.

According to early reports, Bin Laden died after being shot in the head. Four other people were killed in the gunfire. US Special Forces are believed to be holding the body, but a US official said the body was buried at sea “according to Muslim customs”.

Pictures released of the dead Bin Laden have been met by scepticism with many internet sites saying that are fake.

Meanwhile, Pakistani authorities denied any involvement with the Americans in the operation.

In a statement, extremist group Pakistan Tehrik-e-Taliban dismissed the operation as a sham, saying that as far as they are concerned Osama is still alive.

Retired Pakistan Inter Service Intelligence chief Hameed Gul also cast doubts about the operation and US claims, saying that in the footage shown on TV channels Bin Laden looks too young. However, “Obama is a smart person” and “this is a great start to his election campaign”.

Analysts are divided. Some believe that al-Qaeda will be weakened by Bin Laden’s death. Others fear an escalation in violation in response to the loss.

In Pakistan, local sources are saying that US and Western Embassy officials in Islamabad are examining the opportunity of closing down their respective diplomatic missions as a preventive measure.

Many Christian institutions, schools and organisation have closed for the day fearing more violence in the wake of episodes that followed the burning of a Qur‘an in Florida a few weeks ago.

Controls have been stepped up in front of churches in fear of anti-crusader retribution.

Mgr Lawrence Saldanha, archbishop emeritus of Lahore, is also concerned about possible reprisals against Christians by extremist groups. For this reason, he has called on the government to do its utmost to prevent acts o vengeance.

He is especially alarmed by the fact that the Christian minority is an “easy target” compared to the United States, whose forces carried out the operation against Bin Laden. Hence, he wants the authorities to take steps to “guarantee the safety” of the minority.

Despite his p, Christians continue to die violently in Pakistan. Younas Masih, a shop owner in Faisalabad’s Chak Jhumra district, was shot dead this morning. Two men entered his business to buy cigarettes and shot him in cold blood after an argument broke out over payment.

Another man, also called Younas Masih, died in prison from the injuries he sustained in jail last Thursday at the hands of fellow inmates. He was in prison since 2005 when he was arrested on blasphemy charges. In 2007, he was convicted and sentenced to death. Inside, he had to endure threats by other prisoners.

Following his death, prison authorities denied any responsibility in the incident. By contrast, Fr Mark Lucas, a priest in Faisalabad, blames prison officials for not stopping inmates who threatened him repeatedly and for allowing some of them “to reach him”.

It also appears that Masih was not provided with proper medical care and died from an excess loss of blood on his way to hospital.

(Jibran Khan contributed to the article)

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