| A victim’s relative breaks down in Karachi. (AFP)
Karachi, Sept. 25 (Reuters): Two gunmen burst into the offices of a Christian charity in the Pakistani city of Karachi today and tied up and gagged seven Christians before shooting them at point-blank range, police said.
The attack was the latest in a series of bloody assaults on Christian or Western targets since Pakistan’s military government sided with the US-led war on terror last year.
Six men died instantly, and doctors said a seventh died shortly afterwards at Karachi’s main hospital. Police said the seven, all Pakistanis, were shot through the head with a pistol.
Doctors said an eighth man faced permanent paralysis of his left side from a head wound and needed an operation, while a ninth was under sedation after being beaten up in the attack.
The gunmen fled the scene and were being hunted.
The attack took place at the city centre offices of the Idare-e Amn-O-Insaf, or the Organisation for Peace and Justice.
“The gunmen first roped all the people inside the room, they also taped their mouths,” a police officer told Reuters. “After, they fired straight at their heads.”
“The dead bodies were found lying on chairs,” said provincial police chief Syed Kamal Shah. “It appeared that they were forced to sit there. Their hands were tied and their mouths were also taped.”
“We found eight empty bullet shells of a TT pistol which means that they were shot point blank,” he said.
“Apparently it’s an act of terror,” Shah added. “But we are investigating it with an open mind and don't rule out a possible link with recent attacks on minorities and foreign nationals.”
The attack came a day after two gunmen attacked the Swaminarayan temple in Gujarat and killed at least 29 people. Indian deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani has implicitly blamed Pakistan for that attack.
Interior minister Moinuddin Haider told state-run Pakistan Television authorities would track down those responsible.
“It’s a very sad incident,” he said. “We condemn it and whosoever has done it, it is matter of time, we will unmask them. But that certainly is not helping Pakistan.” Leaders of the country’s tiny Christian community, however, said the government was not doing enough to protect them.
“It seems that nobody except Muslims will live in Pakistan,” Salim Khursheed Khokhar, a local leader of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance told Reuters by telephone.
“Fundamentalism is taking root in Pakistan, and Christians’ places of worships and welfare institutes are being targetted one after the other.”
The charity has its offices, which are unmarked, on the third floor of Rimpa Plaza, a 12-storey block in downtown Karachi. A doctor in the next-door office said he had seen two gunmen. “They were wearing shirts and trousers and were clean shaven,” he said.
As a large crowd gathered around the office, the bodies were brought out wrapped in white sheets. Blood dripped off the stretchers carrying the dead men, and there were large blood stains around their heads.
At the hospital female relatives of one victim, Edwin Foster, wailed and beat themselves in grief.
“We were already shattered,” said his mother, Salima. “His father died just a few months back. And now my son. We are ruined, we are ruined.”
An employee of the organisation, Sakina Rahmat, cried at the bedside of her wounded colleague. She usually starts work in the afternoon and was not there at the time of the attack.
”We don't know how it happened,” she said through her tears.“We have no enmity with anybody. How could this happen to us'”
Idare-e Amn-O-Insaf is a welfare organisation supported by both Protestant and Catholic churches, providing legal aid for poor Christians and Muslims, offering help and advice for women and supporting small development projects.
It also publishes a magazine called“Jafakash” (Hard Worker) dealing with human rights and labour issues. A recent issue dealt with Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws, Shah said.
Shah said police were keen to question the ninth man, who was beaten but not shot in the attack, but he had fainted shortly after they began interviewing him.
This year's attacks have been blamed on Muslim militants angered by the government's decision to abandon the fundamentalist Taliban regime in neighbouring Afghanistan, which was overthrown late last year.
Pakistan has arrested more than two dozen members of extremist groups in connection with the attacks, but at the weekend Haider told Reuters he suspected the intelligence services of neighbouring India might have financed them.
Analysts were sceptical that India might have been involved in the latest attack.
”You cannot entirely rule out that possibility,” said Khalid Mehmood of the Institute of Regional Studies.“It's a war of nerves between the two intelligence agencies and intelligence agencies all over the world are involved in such tit-for-tat operations.”
”But in the context of these incidents, I would say this appears to be the work of Islamic religious extremists rather than the involvement of any Indian secret service,” he said.
In March, a grenade attack on the Protestant International Church in Islamabad killed five people, including the wife and daughter of an American diplomat.
On May 8, a suicide bombing killed 11 French naval engineers and three Pakistanis in Karachi. A car bomb outside the U.S. consulate on June 14 killed 12 Pakistanis.
On August 9, four Pakistani nurses and an attacker were killed in an attack on a Christian hospital in the town of Taxila. Four days earlier six people were killed by gunmen who burst into a school for the children of foreign missionaries in the resort town of Muree. (Additional reporting by Imran Maqbool)