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State minister's killing dampens holiday spirit

Suicide attack leaves nine dead as Christian community issues holiday cautions

State minister's killing dampens holiday spirit
Sectarian violence has claimed thousands of lives in Pakistan since 2001 reporter, Peshawar

December 23, 2012

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The Christian community in Peshawar has expressed grief over the killing of a provincial minister in a Taliban suicide attack yesterday and has warned churches to curb planned Christmas activities.

Senior Minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour, 69, of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was killed on Saturday along with eight others by a suicide bomber. Eighteen others were injured in the attack.

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed responsibility for the attack and warned that others who opposed the Taliban would be targeted.

Bilour was one of the most outspoken critics of the Taliban in Pakistan and the highest-profile assassination victim in recent months. Christian and other minority communities in northwest Pakistan have long considered him an important political ally.

The provincial government announced three days of mourning and a Christmas event at the Peshawar governor’s house has been cancelled.

Church of Pakistan Bishop Humphrey Peters of Peshawar requested that all churches turn off their outdoor lights and cancel all public parties on Christmas Eve.

“[Bilour] was so close to the Church and often asked us to pray for him and the country amid the war on terror,” Bishop Peters said.

“We have lost a broad-minded politician who had good relations with the minority communities in this Taliban-infested region.”

Pastor Ejaz Gill of the All Saints Church, located near the historic Qissa Khawani bazaar where Bilour was killed, said the minister made key contributions to improving the educational and health sectors in the province.

“He funded several developmental projects in mission schools and a hospital. We are deeply depressed.”

The killing comes just months ahead of planned national elections.

About 36,000 people have been killed by violence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) since 2001, according to local media reports.

More than 1,000 schools have also been destroyed, along with an estimated 90 percent of the area’s railway infrastructure.

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