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Gunmen in Pakistan Kill 16 in a Christian Church - 2001-10-28


Gunmen in southern Pakistan opened fire at a Christian church service today (Sunday), killing at least 16 worshippers. Hours later, an explosion ripped through a bus near the border with Afghanistan, killing at least three passengers and wounding more than 15 others.

The church attack occurred in troubled Punjab province, when authorities say gunmen began firing indiscriminately on church-goers after killing a sleeping police guard. A Protestant service was under way at the time in the Roman Catholic-owned church.

Pope John Paul issued a statement calling the massacre a tragic act of intolerance. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, or for the bus blast in a heavily-guarded suburb of Quetta (Pakistan) near the Afghan border.

In recent weeks, violent protests have erupted in Quetta against Pakistan's support for the U-S-led campaign in Afghanistan.

The U-S-led campaign is aimed at the network of suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden -- the chief suspect in the September 11th suicide hijackings in the United States.

Pakistani police were assigned to guard Christian churches shortly after last month's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Rival Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims have been fighting in Pakistan's southern Punjab region for years. In 1997, Muslim rioters in southern Punjab attacked about a dozen Christian churches and a school, after claiming some Christians had blasphemed Islam by allegedly desecrating the Islamic holy book, the Koran.

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