02/27/2012, 00.00
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Faisalabad: Christians, not Muslim extremists, behind attack against the Grace Ministry Church

by Shafique Khokhar
Sajid Masih, one the two men wounded in the incident, confirms this version of events. Initially, blame was placed on a fundamentalist group. A property dispute is behind the attack. Faisalabad vicar warns that yellow journalism could undermine interfaith harmony.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) - "Myself and my colleague were not wounded by Muslim extremists. We were hit by bullets fired by a Christian man called Shamshad Bhatti (aka Kaka), and his brothers  Irshad Bhatti, Kamran Bhatti and his sister Arooj Chanda, with the help of others," Sajid Masih said in a brief meeting today with AsiaNews in a Faisalabad hospital where he was taken with serious wounds (pictured). His life does not appear to be in danger but he could lose the arm that was hit. Masih added that local Christians and Muslims "live in peace" and religious leaders "promote harmony" among communities.

The matter started at midnight on 18 February when the Pakistan Christian Post initially reported the incident, which was picked up by international agencies. The day after the attack, reports blamed it on an extremist Muslim group. However, a dispute among Christians over property is behind it.

The four Bhatti siblings plus accomplices attacked the church of Rev Altaf Khan, head of the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan. A dozen people stormed the Grace Ministry Church in Faisalabad, seriously founding Sajid Masih, 35-year-old father of four daughters. Boota Masih was also hurt in the incident with a broken leg. He was beaten and then pushed off the roof onto the paved street.

Before the attack, the Bhattis had been asked to vacate a property near the Grace Ministry Church. The family is apparently involved in illegal activities, trafficking in alcohol and drugs and had taken over property near the Protestant Church. They had also borrowed money from the clergyman without paying it back.

For this reason, Rev Khan tried to have them removed. The Bhattis retaliated by trying to claim the property and the case is still pending before Faisalabad's civil court. Rev Altaf says he has all the necessary documents to prove ownership.

"We used to live in peace with the Bhatti", but a group of Muslim families "pushed them to challenge our ownership of the property."

The head of the Presbyterian community added that local Christian and Muslim religious leaders "promote a culture of peace and harmony." Sadly, some elements "have spread rumours to provoke confessional clashes."

Fr Khalid Rasheed Asi has even harsher words. "I strongly condemn the incident," the vicar general of the Diocese of Faisalabad said. "I appeal to the media not to publish reports before verifying the facts."

The clergyman noted that efforts have been made to promote "interfaith peace and dialogue in Faisalabad;" however, "fake reports can only harm the city's peaceful situation. Thank God that confessional incidents have not followed."


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