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Blaming outsiders for Pakistan church attacks is not enough: faith leaders

Lahore bombings triggered Christian mob killing of two men

Blaming outsiders for Pakistan church attacks is not enough: faith leaders

Pakistani Christians gather at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore on March 22, 2015 for a service for victims of recent church attacks. (Photo by Arif Ali/AFP)

Catholic and Protestant leaders in Pakistan say the government should dig deeper and do more than just blame outsiders for deadly church bombings that killed 17 people in March.

This week, authorities in Punjab province announced they had arrested five men in connection with the attacks on a Catholic and a Protestant church in Lahore. In a press briefing, Home Minister Shuja Khanzada claimed the attacks were planned by a terrorist group in Afghanistan, with financial support from within India.

But Pastor Irshad Ashknaz, vicar at Lahore’s Christ Church, one of the churches targeted, said blaming foreign terrorism was an attempt to absolve local responsibility for an attack on a minority religion.

“Four months have passed and now they hold India responsible,” Ashknaz said in an interview Aug. 5. “Those who attacked us are Pakistanis and we are still waiting for justice.”

Riots followed the March church attacks, and a crowd of angry Christians later lynched two men who had been suspected of participating in the bombings.

Ashknaz, who met with police officials this week, said 41 Christians identified in the mob remain behind bars while authorities continue to search for others.

The killing of the two Muslim men was wrong, he said. But he questioned why so much police attention has been devoted to the mob killings, while the question of responsibility for the church attacks went unanswered for so long.

“We are not favoring the enraged rioters but the whole focus is on arresting protesters,” he said.

However, Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, director of the Pakistani bishops' justice and peace commission, commended police for this week’s arrests in the church attacks. But he reminded authorities not to ignore the fact these attacks are taking place on Pakistani soil.

“Credit goes to Punjab police, but they must arrest local terror groups no matter who operates them,” he said. “The government cannot wash its hands by blaming India or any other country.”

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