Karachi Gunmen Murder Pakistani Welfare Workers

Saturday, August 10, 2002

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, September 25 (Compass) -- Armed gunmen attacked a Pakistani Christian welfare organization in Karachi this morning, then escaped after killing seven Christians and leaving an eighth critically injured.

According to local police, two unidentified attackers entered the third-floor offices of the Idare-e-Amn-O-Insaf, or Institute for Peace and Justice (IPJ), in central Karachi shortly after working hours began today. The assailants apparently gagged all the office staff and tied them to chairs before shooting eight of them point-blank in the head.

Six of the victims died on the spot, while a seventh died later in the hospital and an eighth is still fighting for his life. An additional office worker who was beaten and tied up was not shot, however, enabling him to wriggle free a half-hour later to summon the police.

A doctor working next-door to the unmarked IPJ offices at the time of the attack told Reuters news agency that he had seen two gunmen. “They were wearing shirts and trousers and were clean shaven,” he said.

By late morning, hundreds of police had cordoned off the 12-story Rimpa Plaza building where the attack took place along Jinnah Road, in the southern port city’s central business district.

Although today’s shooting was Karachi’s first attack against a Christian institution this year, suicide and car bomb attacks against Western targets there in May and June killed 11 foreigners and 16 Pakistanis.

Today’s dead, all Christians on the IPJ staff, were identified as Aslam Martin, community coordinator; Mushtaq Roshan, accountant; Kamran Anjum, computer programmer; John Meneses, office boy; Iqbal Allah Rakha and Benjamin Talib, drivers; and Edwin Foster.

According to doctors at Karachi’s main hospital, an eighth colleague, Robin Shareef, remains in critical condition in the intensive care unit. Doctors said the injured man needed surgery and faced permanent paralysis of the left side from his injuries.

Meanwhile, the ninth office worker has collapsed and is now under hospital sedation, Reuters reported. Karachi Police Chief Syed Kamal Shah said investigators were keen to question this uninjured survivor, who reportedly fainted shortly after police began interrogating him.

Local Christian sources told Compass that the sedated office worker, identified as Robin Peranditta, has been put under arrest as a possible suspect in the crime.

Founded in 1973, the IPJ has focused for three decades on obtaining labor rights for textile and city workers, along with representing other human rights issues for the poorest sectors of society. Jointly sponsored by Pakistan’s Catholic and Protestant churches, the group has not been involved in religious politics.

According to police sources, however, a recent issue of the organization’s magazine, “Jafakash” (Hard Worker), had dealt with Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws.

Today’s attack has shattered recent claims by the Pakistan government that this month’s massive crackdown had “smashed” the militant terrorist groups assaulting Christian and Western targets in the country.

Yesterday, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry stepped up security safeguards around Christian sites after admitting that police had uncovered new evidence of future attacks planned against non-Muslim places of worship and foreign establishments.

Police investigators confirmed that militants of the Harakat ul-Mujahideen Al-Almi group recently arrested in Karachi with weapons and explosives had in their possession maps and plans for at least two churches and a Christian school. Entry and exit points for the institutions’ facilities, all located in central Karachi, were marked on the maps, police said.

In Karachi and a number of other cities, local police had removed signs identifying churches meeting in private homes and began fortifying other Christian institutions with sandbag bunkers. “We are removing the signs for their own safety,” a police officer in Rawalpindi told the Associated Press.

Today’s shooting was the fifth deadly assault on Christians in Pakistan since last October, when militant Islamist groups vowed to retaliate against President Pervaiz Musharraf’s decision to support the U.S. war on terrorism. The toll from the string of anti-Christian attacks now comes to 39 killed and 75 injured.

Fifteen Christian worshippers and a policeman were massacred during an October 2001 worship service in Bahawalpur, with five more killed in a March grenade attack at the Islamabad Protestant Church. Another 11 died in separate attacks in early August against the Murree Christian School and the Taxila Christian Hospital, both in the northern Punjab near Islamabad.