Pakistan on Alert after Church Massacre and Bus Bomb
Armed police guarded churches in Pakistani cities as up to 10,000 people attended a funeral service Monday for 16 Christian worshippers massacred at a Sunday service.
The attack by gunmen in the Punjab city of Bahawalpur was the worst against Christians in the history of the Muslim nation.
No group has claimed responsibility for the massacre, but along with a bus bomb in Quetta that killed three people, it has increased fears of a backlash against the US war on neighbouring Afghanistan.
Christian groups have demanded extra protection and armed police were put on duty at following the killings, which President Pervez Musharraf called "an act of terrorism."
He said: "My government and the law enforcement agencies will do everything possible so that whoever committed this gruesome act, is caught and given exemplary punishment," he said.
Gunmen entered the church in Bahawalpur and opened fire with Kalashnikov assault rifles on Protestant worshippers, killing the 16 worshippers and a policeman on guard outside.
Church groups had said 18 people died in the attack, but police on Monday revised the toll down to 17 including the policeman.
At the huge funeral service in Bahawalpur, some Christians chanted slogans condemning terrorism and demanding extra security for minority communities as they walked through the town towards the cemetery.
Police warned that the toll from the bus bomb in the southwestern city of Quetta could rise from three dead, as nine of the 25 injured people were in critical condition.
Quetta is close to the border with Afghanistan and has seen several riots and protests since US attacks on Taliban targets in Afghanistan began on October 7.
Thousands of Pakistani tribal militants were waiting on the Afghan border in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) for the call to cross the frontier and help the Taliban combat the US-led military campaign.
A 12-member tribal delegation was reported to have gone to the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Sunday for talks with Taliban officials.
The hardline Islamic Tehreek Nifaz-e-Sharia Mohammadi group has organised the militants camped near the border in the Bajaur tribal area.
Extra paramilitary troops have been sent to the area but NWFP governor Syed Iftikhar Hussein Shah said the men would not be stopped from crossing the border.
"Anyone who wants to go for jihad (holy war) in Afghanistan, we will send them with flowers in their collars, just as long as they don't disturb the peace in Pakistan," he told a meeting of provincial mayors.
In the far north of Pakistan, military units with armoured vehicles moved into position along the "Silk Route" to China -- the Karakoram highway -- as militants continued a blockade in protest at the US-led campaign.
Officials said some tribal gunmen had withdrawn on the advice of religious clerics, but others had vowed to maintain their blockade, which has snared hundreds of cars and trucks since Thursday, until Pakistan withdraws support for the US campaign.
They have also demanded the release of the hardline Islamic Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam party leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, and other religious figures arrested for organising anti-US rallies.
Musharraf has said the vast majority of Pakistanis support his policy of allowing US warplanes to fly across Pakistan territory and use airbases for search and rescue missions into Afghanistan.
The US and its allies are conducting a military campaign against the Taliban because of its alliance with alleged terrorist Osama bin Laden, who is wanted for the September 11 terrorist strikes on New York and Washington -- ISLAMABAD, (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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