ISLAMABAD: A mob of hundreds of Muslim men attacked and burnt an 82-year-old church and an adjoining school in northwest Pakistan during a protest against an anti-Islam film, sparking concerns among the minority Christian community.
The mob broke through the gate of the St Paul's Lutheran Church inside the cantonment in Mardan city near Peshawar, on Friday while returning from a rally against the film 'Innocence Of Muslims'. According to reports from Christians in Mardan, the mob attacked and set on fire the church, St Paul's high school, a library, a computer laboratory and houses of four clergymen, including Bishop Peter Majeed.
The mob also damaged and torched moveable property, including a car and three motorcycles. Zeeshan Chand, the 17-year-old son of a pastor, was beaten by the mob and had to be hospitalised in Mardan.
Rev Binyameen Barkat, the treasurer of the Northern Diocese of the Church of Pakistan, said, "We were under threats of such attacks since last week and had requested the local administration to provide security to the church property, which they did. However, it was not enough to stop the aggressive armed men."
Christian leaders said those who attacked the church had brought kerosene and guns. They stoned the church, desecrated the altar, tore copies of the Bible and prayer books and later put everything on fire. "We immediately called the fire brigades, but the mob stoned and did not allow the fire fighters to enter the church compound," Barkat said.
President Asif Ali Zardari today condemned the burning of the church, saying the ransacking of public and private property, particularly places of worship of other religions, was an "un-Islamic and condemnable act".
The government has also disassociated itself from railway minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour's offer of a $100,000 bounty for the maker of the anti-Islam video, saying it had nothing to do with the move. The police has also filed case against 6,000 people for anti-Islam film protests in Lahore, officials said.
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