A group of heavily armed Muslim men fired bullets indiscriminately at a church and Christians' homes, wounding at least four Christians, including a six-month pregnant woman, in Pakistan’s Lahore city, according to a report.
The shooting took place in the Shamsabad locality of Sherakot area in Lahore city, Punjab Province on Sept. 6, Morning Star News reported.
Asif Masih, one of the wounded Christian residents, was quoted as saying that he heard shouts followed by bursts of gunfire from fully automatic assault rifles after he returned home from work that afternoon.
“When I was telling my kids to get inside, I saw a group of heavily armed men firing indiscriminately at a church located on the street,” he said. “They then trained their weapons on the homes of neighboring Christians and fired volleys of bullets at them.”
The gunmen saw him looking and opened fire on him, wounding him in both thighs.
“I barely managed to drag myself into my house and locked the gate, but they did not stop firing,” Masih said. “I could hear them shouting that they would not spare Christians living in the area and would also burn down our church.”
The gunmen also wounded three women, identified as Nirma Bibi, Maria Kashif and Samina.
“One of the injured women is six months pregnant,” Masih said. “She was hit in the leg by one of the several bullets fired at their gate, but fortunately her family members were able to secure her inside.”
While the area residents called police at 2:30 p.m., officers didn't arrive until 8 p.m., Masih said.
“Our entire street has been riddled with bullets, and people have been injured, but the police have not included the sections related to terrorism in the FIR [First Information Report],” he added. “Moreover, I had stated in my application to the police that the accused had continuously threatened to burn the church and harm us, but even these facts were missing in the formal FIR.”
According to Morning Star News, two of the gunmen were identified as Dilshad Dogar and Chand Khencha, who fired hundreds of bullets from Kalashnikov (AK-47) rifles and other weapons.
The police complaint claims that the firing arose out of a dispute between a Christian, Asghar Masih and Dogar.
“Ask them why Dogar and his accomplices opened fire on the homes of Christians and injured innocent people like us if they had just a personal dispute with an individual?” Dogar was quoted as saying. “The police have been protecting the accused since day one because they are Muslims, and we are poor Christians.”
Attorney Javed Gill, a senior leader of the Christian Lawyers Association of Pakistan, said there were conflicting reports about the motive for the firing.
“Several residents have claimed that the accused were opposed to the presence of a church in the locality and had been pressuring them to stop worship there, while some are saying that the incident was an outcome of a dispute over a girl,” Gill was quoted as saying. “Nonetheless, even if it was a dispute between two people, how can anyone justify the targeting of the entire Christian neighborhood with automatic weapons?”
Muhammad Azeem, the in-charge of the Sherakot Police Station, was quoted as saying that three men had been arrested and raids were being conducted to arrest the other accused, but he refused to answer questions about the delay.
An estimated 1.6% of Pakistan’s 17 million people are Christian, both Catholic and Protestant. Around 97% of the Pakistanis are Muslim, predominantly Sunni.
International persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA ranks Pakistan at No. 5 on its 2021 World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most severe persecution due to an “extreme” level of Islamic oppression. Pakistan is also listed by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for tolerating in or engaging in egregious violations of religious freedom.