A Catholic Church in Harsan Kot Chak 165, in the district of Samundari, 36 km from Faisalabad came under attack on the evening of 13th July 2018 when four armed men fired bullets at the front wall and entry.
The incident began at 6pm when a 17 year old teenager named Shan Jalal was walking around the church pasting posters for the next youth meeting on 22nd July 2018, onto the church boundary wall. At the time of the attack, 50 to 60 people were congregated in Kot Harsan Catholic Church for a youth meeting that was scheduled at 7:00 pm that evening, they came early because of the huge popularity of the event.
While he was undertaking his duties four armed men holding pistols began firing their weapons onto the front wall of the church compound, in his full view. Shan became very afraid and quickly ran into the Church building in order to get away from the assailants, however two armed men followed him inside and began firing at the windows and interior walls of the Church, causing fear and panic amongst the assembled youth. The other two men stayed outside the church building.
The two shooters caused great havoc, their shots shattered the glass of the church windows which broke into small pieces and sprayed all over the church floor with debris from the Church interior walls. Although some minor injuries were caused by the sharp edges of the shattered glass the men seemed intent on simply damaging the church and creating fear. They did they did nothing to harm Shan and did not target the young people, but stood in the same place as they shot all the bullets within their pistols. The men shot at the most vulnerable parts of the building in areas where most of the youth were scrambling on the floor. Attempting stir up anxiety and dread amongst the vulnerable youth as they fired their weapons, Islamic chants including allah-whu-akbar (allah is the great) were shouted inciting fear in even the bravest of the youth. The attackers ripped apart bibles and smashed parts of the building with Iron rods they carried in their non-trigger hands, while church members prayed they would not be killed.
As shots fired around the church those gathered could be heard screaming, many parishioners began to pray seeking God’s deliverance from what they believed to be a terrorist attack. Suddenly the bullets in both shooters’ guns’ ran out. One man named Saleem Masih (36 years) emboldened by the period of silence and the desperate look on the shooters as they realised they had finished all their ammunition, rushed at the attackers and grappled the man nearest to him. He shouted to others to join him and a large group of young men followed his lead and took on the two shooters. Only moments earlier the two shooters had sent church members sprawling for cover now the church men grabbed the attackers as best they could, quickly disarming them so that they could not reload their weapons of terror. Many where hit and kicked by the much larger and stronger men who did all they could to escape their capture, as they attempted to flee the scene of their violent intimidation.
The men eventually succumbed to the joint strength of so many brave young people as they grappled the larger assailants and pinned them face-down to the floor, where the men were held with their arms secured behind their backs by many young hands. The two shooters were held down by many of the youth for at least 30 mins, whilst others called the police and awaited their arrival. Despite the use of guns in a violent attack the police did not seem to apply any urgency to the crime. Their arrival after half an hour during which time the two captured assailants were struggling to set themselves free and were shouting out threats and profanities has been condemned by several members of the church. The two men outside the church had fled already on realising their friends had been captured. A video was taken by a parishioner whilst they awaited the police:
When the police arrived the young people, church leaders and by now half the Christian community in the area, released the men into the custody of the police response unit. At this point the whereabouts of the two look-out men was unknown.
Then the police had safely apprehending the two men and left the church building after 10 to 15 minutes, taking some of the material witnesses with them. The authorities did not at that point investigate any of the damage to the building or any other crime evidence. While they were travelling to the police station one of the two other men was spotted by the material witnesses with the police and after a chase a third attacker was able to be caught by local police. Leaving only one of the attackers unidentified and on the run from police authorities.
A short time afterwards a further attacker entered the church and began dousing the whole building with petrol from a canister she had brought the crime scene. While she splattered petrol across the church she shouted out profanities and yelled, ‘I will burn down your infidel church’. The woman was later identified as Khadija (49 yrs), who is a close family friend of the two men who had been arrested earlier into the Church. Woman in the church surrounded her, so Khadija threw petrol over them and threatened to kill them. However, even in their vulnerable state as they were dripping with petrol the female parishioners grabbed the would-be-arsonist and held her securely to the ground. They called the police who this time responded within minutes and apprehended Khadija and took her to the police station under arrest.
Our officer Zeeshan Masih met with parishioners and was informed by the congregation that their assailants may have planned the attack to create fear and panic as part of a land-grabbing exercise. Local Christians They have been informed by people in the community who know about the perpetrators that those responsible want to remove the Church from the area in order to usurp the land for fiscal gain.
An influential Muslim lady named Nasreen Iqbal (46 yrs) is believed to be connected to local land mafia and is known for her own criminal activities. At least three of the attackers were her family members. Three of the men who riddled the Church with bullets were from her family; two of the perpetrators were her sons Jawad (21 yrs) and Changez (22 yrs) ; the third attacker was her son-in-law whose name was Zulkarnan (21 yrs) while the fourth male assailant remains at large.
Nasreen who is believed to be the matriarch for the criminal gang involved in this attack has now filed a false charge against the congregation saying Christian people have attacked her family and to prove it, she actually injured herself and another of her sons’, to create evidence for the police.
Shan Masih, the young man dodging bullets in the early moments of the attack, said:
“We are under severe threat from the local Muslim community and they are threatening us to kill us and to destroy our houses. Many of us have not gone to work today for fear of a reprisal attack, we stay awake all night to watch over and protect our houses.”
Police say they have captured all the culprits except one and that they are being held in custody; however they have not released the FIR indicating charges have been laid against the gang of assailants.
The total Christian population of the village is 500 to 600 hundred people and this Church has an attendance of at least 300 Church members. The situation is aid to be very tense in the village. Christians in the area fear the local police are biased towards these influential members of the Muslim community and the Christians in the area still very much feel at risk.
BPCA officer Zeeshan Masih has attended Samundari Police Station with all the material witnesses and despite assurances of a First Incident Report (FIR) tonight the police failed to produce one. They have stated one will be available in the morning however, local Christians fear that Police may not register their reported crime but may implicate the innocent Christian victims in some trumped up charges, which they believe is a normative practice with criminal cases involving non-Muslims.
Wilson Chowdhry Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said:
“Even with so many witnesses it is uncertain that these shooters will be prosecuted. The culprits try to shift blame and justify their egregious behaviour and more often than not in these cases police authorities conspire with their favoured Muslim citizens.
“These evil attackers targeted youths meeting for a prayer gathering. They were simply set on destroying what they see as a barrier to their brazen and unlawful seizure of land.
“Apparently the Christians in this community spend nights awake trying to protect their homes, and for their efforts are given no peace but are continually harassed and targeted for their faith.
“This criminal gang is intent on driving Christians from their property, while the faithful try to get on with their lives and bravely continue to worship and celebrate life. How is it that a family of thugs thought it possible to attack a church with impunity?
“This incident reminds us all that a normative pattern of police neglect towards Christians exists in Pakistan, a social malaise that has reduced their quality of life to its lowest ebb”.
British Pakistani Christian Association have been asked by the church to help raise funds help restore the damage to the church property. We also intend to provide a solicitor to the church to ensure the perpetrators of the crime are justly convicted and to protect the members of the church from being framed in the exhibited attempts to thwart justice by Nasreen. We envisage a cost of around £1200 to pay for the repairs to the church and to hire a good quality solicitor. If you would like to donate please (click here)