International Church Attakecked in Pakistan

Saturday, August 10, 2002

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, March 18 (Compass) -- Unidentified terrorists hurled grenades into a Protestant worship service in the diplomatic quarter of Pakistan's capital city yesterday, killing five worshippers and wounding another 40 members of the congregation.

The dead included an American mother and her teenage daughter, a Pakistani woman and an Afghan man. A fifth body remains unidentified. At least six of the wounded are listed in critical condition at intensive care units of local hospitals.

The shocking assault began just before 11 a.m., when a loud explosion rocked the back of Islamabad's International Protestant Church during the Sunday morning sermon. One assailant with a grenade in his hand and several more on his belt ran down the aisle, shouting and lobbing the explosives directly at the 70 people in the sanctuary.

"At that point I hit the deck," a Briton working for the Tearfund aid agency told Reuters. "There were five or six more explosions," Nick Parham recalled. Between six to eight grenades were used in the attack, with at least two live grenades later recovered and disabled.

Windows were blown out, with the walls and ceiling of the church splattered with blood and body parts, survivors said. Some people dove to the floor for cover, and one woman hid under the piano until the smoke cleared. "Almost everybody was covered in blood," one person said, with mangled and unconscious bodies covering the floor. Panicked parents began calling for their children, trying to grope their way downstairs to the Sunday School rooms.

U.S. diplomatic sources confirmed that Barbara Green, wife of a U.S. Embassy diplomat, was killed along with her teenage daughter, Kirsten. Local police officials have also confirmed the deaths of a Pakistani woman, identified as Rabia Edward, and an Afghan man, Anwar Baizar.

A man's dismembered body still remains unidentified, with Pakistani investigators uncertain whether he was a victim or possibly one of the assailants.

Islamabad Police Superintendent Nasir Khan Durrani said late Sunday night that investigators believed only one attacker was involved. But several of the survivors told reporters they had seen two men throwing grenades. One U.S. diplomat told Reuters he had "reason to believe" that the fifth body was not that of an attacker.

"There was a lot of confusion," a U.S. Embassy press spokesman in Islamabad told Compass today, "but I think things are becoming clearer." Although he said he did not yet have precise figures for the number of Americans wounded, he said the total was close to 15.

Among the injured were the Sri Lankan Ambassador to Pakistan and several members of his family, as well as the wife of a Japanese diplomat. Citizens of Pakistan, Germany, Iran, Great Britain, Canada, Ethiopia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Switzerland were also wounded.

One of the six worshippers on the critical list is the president of the congregation, Dr. Christy Munir. A retired chemistry professor from Quaid-i-Azam University, Munir is under intensive care at the Pakistani Institute of Medical Sciences. Munir's youngest son Harun confirmed to Compass today that his father, now 62, has undergone three operations since his hospital admission yesterday.

Built 10 years ago in a protected diplomatic enclave of Islamabad, the International Protestant Church has been without a permanent pastor for a number of months. The congregation of some 150 diplomats, teachers, NGO representatives and professionals shrank to half that number last fall, when many diplomatic missions and commercial companies sent their employees' dependents back to their home countries in the wake of September 11.

According to a "Washington Post" report, weekly services were still being held in the church in Korean, Urdu, two Afghan dialects and English. But yesterday, members of the church said the building was now "in ruins," and virtually unusable.

Yesterday's carnage was the second deadly attack against Christians at worship in Pakistan since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. In a previous assault on October 28, fanatic militants shouting Islamist slogans machine-gunned 15 Pakistani Christians and a Muslim guard to death during Sunday services at a church in Bahawalpur.

Calling the attack "an act of sabotage against Pakistan's national interests," President Pervez Musharraf told the nation yesterday that his government was "undeterred" in fighting terrorism in all its forms, vowing that the culprits would be tracked down and brought to justice.

U.S. President George W. Bush condemned the carnage, declaring the murders "cannot be tolerated by any person of conscience nor justified by any cause."

"It is very, very clear that this was done to embarrass our government," one Pakistani Christian leader told Compass hours after the attack. "But we must keep going on, doing what we do, or otherwise it will be a victory for the terrorists."

Copyright 2002 Compass Direct.