Police arrested 129 Muslims in an overnight raid in an area in East Pakistan where Muslim mobs attacked churches and homes of the Christian minority. The attack was sparked by mass anger over the alleged desecration of the Koran by a Christian man. The attack prompted authorities to deploy troops to restore order, officials said Thursday (17/8).
There were no casualties as Christians living in a residential area in Jaranwala town in Faisalabad district immediately moved to a safer place with their families, following one of the deadliest attacks on Christians in the country.
Christians who slowly started returning to their homes Thursday saw the destruction of at least one church that was torched. Four other churches were also damaged. Two dozen houses were burned or badly damaged during the riots.
“We were sitting at home when suddenly we heard a mob came and burned houses and attacked the church,” said Shazia Amjad while crying outside her house that was burned on Wednesday (16/8).
Police officers look at the rubble of a house damaged by an angry Muslim mob in the Christian quarter of Jaranwala in Faisalabad district, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023. (Photo: AP)
He told the Associated Press news agency that rioters burned household equipment and furniture. Some of Amjad’s possessions were stolen when he moved to safety with his family.
Amjad said the mobs poured petrol to set fire to houses in their area, and they also stole jewelery and other property. Other Christians described similar accidents and expressed their bewilderment.
Local Christians comforted one another outside their damaged homes, while many women wept over the destruction. Those whose houses were burned did not know where to go or what to do.
On Wednesday, Khalid Mukhtar, a local pastor, told AP that most Christians living in the area had fled to safety. “Even my house was burnt,” he said, adding that most of the 17 churches in Jaranwala had been attacked.
A delegation of Muslim clerics arrived in Jaranwala to help calm the situation while soldiers and police patrolled the area.
Local authorities have closed schools and offices and banned public meetings for a week to prevent further violence.
The violence drew national condemnation. Interim Prime Minister Anwaarul-ul-Haq Kakar ordered the police to ensure the rioters were caught.
On Thursday, Rizwan Khan, regional police chief, said 129 suspects had been arrested and the situation was under control.
The violence erupted after some Muslims living in the area claimed they saw a local Christian, Raja Amir, and his friend tear up several pages of the Koran, throw it on the ground and write derogatory remarks on other pages.
Police say they are trying to arrest Amir to determine whether he desecrated the Muslim holy book. (uh/ab)