Rev. William Siraj and Rev Patrick Naeem were targeted in a shooting
Two gunmen killed a pastor and injured another outside a church in Peshawar, Pakistan. The attack is representative of growing violence and intimidation in the Peshawar region, which borders Afghanistan.
A Pakistani pastor has been killed, and another seriously injured, in a gun attack outside their church. Rev. William Siraj and Rev. Patrick Naeem had been leading the Sunday morning service at Shaheedan-e-all Saints’ Church in north western Peshawar when two men on a motorbike drove up and started shooting. Rev. William Siraj died instantly, while Rev. Patrick Naeem was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.
A history of violent attack
Their church was founded in memory of All Saints’ Church, which was targeted by suicide bombers in September 2013. In that attack, by an offshoot of the Pakistani branch of the Taliban, 127 church members were killed and more than 250 were injured. Among those killed was Rev. Siraj’s son-in-law; he had been supporting his widowed daughter in the years since. No-one has yet claimed responsibility for this new attack.
“He was a very humble and godly man,” said a church member, speaking to World Watch Monitor. “We all respected and loved him. He loved us so much.”
A memorial service for Rev. Siraj was attended by more than 3,000 mourners.
No threats were made preceding the attack, but a local source told World Watch Monitor that the way it was carried out suggests a deliberate and planned attack. The source, who wished to remain anonymous, added: “It is an act designed to intimidate, challenge and threaten those who offer rights, protection and freedoms to Christian minorities in Pakistan.”
The attack was described as ‘a blatant assault not only on Pakistan’s Christian community but on all religious minorities whose right to life and security remains under constant threat’ by Hina Jilani, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission in Pakistan. Bishop Azad Marshall, the leader of the Church of Pakistan, called for ‘justice and protection of Christians from the Government of Pakistan’.
Christians make up less than two per cent of Pakistan’s majority-Muslim population, and face persecution and lack of religious freedom in all areas of life. Christians are considered second-class citizens, and those who’ve converted from Islam are the most vulnerable to persecution. The country’s infamous blasphemy laws are often abused to target Christians, even if they haven’t actually done anything to contravene the rules.
Increase in violence Pakistan is number eight on the Open Doors World Watch List 2022 – it has fallen slightly, largely due to persecution increasing in other countries. This score doesn’t tell the whole picture, as persecution differs according to region – and Peshawar’s proximity to Afghanistan means that it has seen an increase in attacks and intimidation since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021. Experts say that local Islamic militants have been emboldened by the success of the Taliban, and Pakistani Christians are suffering the consequences.
A local source says, “Unfortunately, we have seen an increase in assassination attempts, families in Christian neighbourhoods who are being shot at, forced conversions and bombings. [This attack] was yet another example of this brand of violence.”
Please keep praying for the families of those killed or injured, and that Christians in Pakistan would be free to worship in peace and safety.
Information for this article comes from World Watch Monitor