By Amjad Ali
Islamabad, Jan 31 (EFE).- The killing of a priest in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar has triggered fears among the minority Christian community, which has witnessed a rise in attacks by extremists after the United States’ troops withdrew from neighboring Afghanistan.
On Sunday two armed men on a motorcycle opened fire against a car carrying priests William Siraj and Patrick Naeem, who were returning from Sunday mass.
Siraj died on the spot, while Naeem suffered light injuries and was discharged from the hospital after treatment.
A third person was also injured in the attack, whose motives and perpetrators are not clear.
“A case containing terrorism charges has been registered but no one has been arrested so far,” Khushal Khan, a police officer at Peshawar’s Chamkani police station, told EFE.
Officials said that the attackers fired from close range and fled from the scene after the attack.
“After yesterday’s incident we are fearing for our lives,” Samuel Gill, the chairperson of Shaloom Trust – an organization working for interfaith harmony – told EFE.
Although this is not the first attack against Christians in the Muslim-majority nation, the killing of a pastor has shook the community, which represents less than 2 percent of the population.
“Attacking a religious leader is painful not only for Christians but also for people of other religions,” Gill added.
Azad Marshall, the presiding protestant bishop of Pakistan, condemned the attack on Church members in a tweet, demanding “justice and protection of Christians from the Government of Pakistan.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said the attack also had implications for other minority religions of the country.
“We are especially concerned that, amid signs of growing radicalization across the country, religious minorities will become increasingly relegated to the margins and violence against their communities allowed to continue with impunity,” the HRCP said in a statement.
Christians have been targeted frequently by extremist groups in Pakistan, resulting in dozens of deaths.
One of the most lethal attacks against the community took place in 2013, also in Peshawar, when a bombing against a church killed more than 80 people.
In 2015, 14 people were killed in twin bombings against two churches in the eastern city of Lahore.
According to statistics released by Islamabad-based think tank Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS), Pakistan witnessed a 56 percent surge in militant attacks in 2021,
The rise in violence comes despite the government holding a one-month ceasefire with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the main branch of Taliban in the country, to try and resolve the conflict.
Most of the attacks have been claimed by the TTP, an umbrella group of several tribal rebel organizations established in 2007 which has waged war against Islamabad for years, seeking to impose an Islamic state.
The ceasefire was signed in November with the mediation of the Afghan Taliban, allies of the TTP, but the insurgents withdrew from it on Dec. 9 after their demands were rejected by Islamabad.