ucanews.com reporter, KarachiUpdated: May 09, 2017 10:58 AM GMT
Good Friday service at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Karachi on April 14. A Pakistani medical student who admitted she was planning to conduct a suicide attack on a church in Lahore during Easter has been released by the authorities. (Photo by Asif Hassan/AFP)
The sudden release of a female supporter of the so-called Islamic State who was plotting a suicide attack on a Lahore church during Easter has shocked Pakistan's minority Christian community.
Noreen Leghari, 19, a second-year student of a medical university in the southern Pakistani city of Hyderabad, was captured in a military raid on an Islamic State cell in Lahore on April 15.
A few days later, the Pakistan military released a video confession of Leghari, who said she was going to be used as suicide bomber at a church in Lahore on Easter.
Leghari's release became public knowledge when 92 News, a cable TV channel, aired an interview with her on May 8.
The authorities have yet to comment on Leghari's release and the reasoning behind it but Pakistan's army chief spokesman Maj-Gen Asif Ghafoor earlier said that she would be released after undergoing a rehabilitation program.
During the 92 News interview, a visibly relaxed Leghari said that she was drawn to the idea of an Islamic caliphate and migration through social media. Many educated Pakistanis idealize the revival of the caliphate, a regime containing all Islamic countries under one caliph, a person considered to be the successor of Prophet Muhammad.
"They (terrorists) contacted me on social media and narrated mostly Quranic verses about jihad. About the migration to Syria, they asked me to come to Lahore first," Leghari said in the TV interview.
Watch this video of Noreen Leghari's confession.
"When I was told that I was to be used as a suicide bomber, I objected and told them I was only interested in migration (travel to Syria). But I was told that Emir's obedience was compulsory. You must do it. Just chant 'Allah o Akbar' (God is Great) and explode your suicide vest," she said.
"When the army raided our house, I was rescued," Leghari told the TV host.
During the interview, she said that she would resume her medical studies.
The TV interview did not touch on why she was released by the authorities.
Church officials and members of the Christian community have expressed shock over the would-be bomber's release.
Hyacinth Peter, executive secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Major Religious Superiors Leadership Conference in Multan Diocese, demanded that Leghari be put on trial for terrorism.
"What would have happened if she had managed to blow herself up in a church on Easter. This is a dangerous precedent for national security," Peter told ucanews.com.
"It is unfortunate that people accused of attacking the minority community go scot-free," said Peter.
"Still as Christians we are taught to forgive others and I hope this episode becomes a turning point in the life of this student. We pray for the inner conversion of these terrorists."
Lutheran Bishop Jimmy Mathew of Mardan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province took a harder approach.
"The agencies should not have shared her confessional video if they were to release her," he said. "Churches around the country thank the law enforcement agencies for thwarting the Easter plot, but releasing a suspect may put them at risk again."
Naveed Gerard, a churchgoer, who witnessed the 2015 suicide bombing on two Catholic churches of Youhanabad expressed dismay over Leghari's release.
"I collected body parts of suicide bomber from our roof and handed them over to the forensic teams, my family was terrified. We know what fear is," said the Catholic logistic officer at an engineering company, who has been living in Youhanabd for more than three decades.
"She should have been kept in jail and taught a lesson. Her being forgiven will encourage other suicide bombers to attack religious minorities. Our blood is not cheap."
During Easter 2016, more than 70 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a recreational park in Lahore.
Outrage on Twitter
In addition to the minority community, many Pakistanis took to Twitter to denounce Leghari's release.
"Pakistan, where an ISIS suicide bomber Noreen Leghari can be forgiven for planning an Easter attack but Asia Bibi [a Catholic woman on death row for blasphemy] can't be forgiven!" Naila Inayat, a Pakistani journalist, tweeted.
"Noreen Leghari needs to be behind bars not behind a TV camera, gender shall not absolve her of her intent to mass murder," Palwasha Khan said via social media.
"Kill or plan to kill Pakistanis If 'by mistake' got caught read script on TV all sins forgiven innocent like 'baby,'" Salman Sikandar, a Twitter user, said.
"Students please welcome your new classmate Noreen, she was gonna blow up a church but she's your friend now. Be nice," another Twitter user wrote.
"In the U.S., ISIS recruit Noreen Leghari would have been jailed, charged, tried. In Pakistan, she's been released and interviewed on TV. Crazy," Madiha Afzal, a public policy professor at Maryland University, tweeted.
"There is something seriously wrong when people like Malala, Abdus Salam (Paksitan's first Nobel winning Ahmadi Prosfessor) are castigated and people like Noreen and Ehsan ullah Ehsan (Pakistani Taliban spokesman) are empathized," Naveed Athar Mazari wrote.
"While Noreen Leghari is no Ehsanullah Ehsan, she's not an innocent victim either. She is an educated woman who ought to be held accountable. And she should be charged, tried, and punished according to the law, taking extenuating circumstances into consideration," another Twitter user demanded.