A Christian priest was shot dead by gunmen in Pakistan’s Peshawar town on Sunday, The Spectator reported.
Pastor William Siraj was gunned down as he headed home from mass with two fellow priests, one of whom, Naeem Patrick, was also wounded. While no one has officially claimed responsibility for the attack, the killing – carried out by two men on motorbikes – comes amidst a rise in jihadist attacks in Pakistan.
Most of the recent spate in jihadist violence is claimed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which last month orchestrated a gun raid at a check-post in Islamabad, the country’s capital. The Pakistani Taliban, and their affiliates, have been encouraged by the triumph of their Afghan counterparts in Kabul. They have also been emboldened by the Pakistani state’s softly-softly approach towards jihadis.
Christians – who make up less than two per cent of the population in Pakistan – are inevitably the most vulnerable to the Taliban-led jihadi terror. Churches have been on high alert in September. The TTP, and affiliated groups, have regularly targeted Christians, bombing churches across the country. In Lahore, the otherwise secure capital of the Punjab province, the Roman Catholic Church and Christ Church was targeted during a Sunday service in 2015, killing at least 15 worshippers. An Easter massacre the following year killed over 70 Christians in a suicide bombing at a children’s park.
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There is something grimly familiar about the killing of William Siraj, whose funeral service was held yesterday at Peshawar’s All Saints Church. In 2013, this church was the site of the deadliest terror attack on Pakistani Christians, at least 80 of whom were killed. On Sunday, Pastor Siraj had been on his way back from the ‘Martyrs of the All Saints Church’, a memorial site of the horrific 2013 bombing.
To make matters worse, Pakistan’s profane blasphemy laws have only emboldened Islamist mobs, with Christians being disproportionately targeted. In April, two Christian nurses faced the death penalty for removing a sticker with Islamic inscriptions in a hospital ward; a Sri Lankan worker who removed posters with passages from the Quran was torched to death in December. And last May, a mob beat Christian men and women with rods and looted their houses in a village near Okara town over accusations of blasphemy.
Yet while Christians continue to come under attack and flee Pakistan for safety overseas, Imran Khan's government buries its head in the sand. Even as Christian beliefs are openly denounced, churches destroyed, and priests killed in broad daylight, Khan’s focus instead has been on calling out ‘Islamophobia’ in the West. On Sunday, when Pastor William Siraj was killed, Khan was busy congratulating Canadian PM Justin Trudeau for appointing a ‘special representative against Islamophobia’.
'Let’s join hands to put an end to this menace,' Khan tweeted, as his government wrings its hands at the prospect of taking a stand against the jihadists and radical Islamists at home that have left Christians fearing for their lives.
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This article first appeared in The Spectator.