Pakistani Pastors Feared Kidnapped

Monday, May 17, 2004

Unknown Islamist group threatens Quetta church leaders.

by Barbara G. Baker

ISTANBUL, May 17 (Compass) -- After a series of handwritten threats sent to Christian leaders in the Pakistani city of Quetta last week, at least one Protestant pastor has been reported missing by his family, with the whereabouts of another six uncertain.

According to news reports which appeared in this morning’s Pakistani newspapers, Pastor Wilson Fazal of the Pakistan Gospel Assembly in Quetta has been missing since Sunday morning, when his family believes he was abducted by an unknown group of Muslim extremists.

Fazal, 41, was reportedly enroute to Sunday morning services in Quetta’s Bashirabad suburb when he disappeared yesterday. According to church leaders who addressed a press conference in Quetta last night, a previous attempt by several bearded men to abduct Fazal three days earlier had been foiled and reported to local police.

Compass has received scanned copies of three different threat letters sent to Fazal and other Quetta church leaders, including the directors of Christian institutions in the city. One of the letters began with a penciled sketch of Osama bin Laden at the top.

In the last letter addressed to Fazal and delivered to his house five days ago, the Pentecostal pastor was told, “Christians of Quetta, you are displeasing God … Accept the faith of jihad. Stop the teaching of all schools, hospitals and churches. Join with us in Islamic evangelism.”

“Get ready, ready, ready, or else,” the letter concluded, with a hand-drawn rifle for a signature at the bottom.

According to a Reuters release filed yesterday, the source of the letters was a previously unknown group calling itself “Mahaz-e-Jihad” (Frontier of the Holy War).

In other threat letters, Christian educators were warned to “stop preaching false doctrines by which they lead people astray.” If the recipients did not stop admitting Muslim students and staff into Christian institutions, one letter stated, “… we will have to resort to acts of terrorism or suicide attacks.”

Six other Pentecostal church leaders in the city are also missing, although local Christians have not been able to confirm whether they were abducted. It is conjectured that the six, four of them married men and two bachelors, may have gone into hiding to avoid capture.

According to unconfirmed reports, a local pastor has received a letter from Fazal’s kidnappers, declaring they will not release him until local churches comply with their demands to close down their Christian institutions and stop all Christian teaching and preaching in the city.

Quetta’s senior superintendent of police, Rehmat Niaz, told Reuters news agency that the authorities were investigating the complaint filed by the family of Fazal, who is married with five children.

“But we are absolutely terrified that they are not handling this crisis properly,” a church leader from the neighboring Punjab province told Compass. “The Christian community there is very small and weak, so these churches and families need a lot of prayer right now.”

Capital of Pakistan’s arid Baluchistan province, Quetta is less than 80 miles from the Afghan border. Since late 2001, its population has been swollen by several hundred thousand Afghans, many of them hardliners from the Taliban movement.

Pakistan’s Christian churches and institutions have been the violent target of repeated terrorist attacks since September 2001, when the Islamabad government backed the U.S.-led offensive against the al-Qaeda movement.