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Jaish link to Pak church attack

Daska, Dec. 26 (Reuters): Police detained three suspected members of the Jaish-e-Mohammad in central Pakistan today over the Christmas Day church attack that killed three girls.

Shahid Iqbal, a senior police officer in the area of the attack, said the suspects came from the village where the attack took place.

Last night’s explosion at a church in a remote village 20 km from the small industrial town of Daska was the latest in a string of attacks on Christians.

President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali condemned the attack in separate messages, calling it an attempt to disrupt and divide the mainly Muslim country of 140 million people.

“Such reprehensible acts are committed by those anti-Pakistan elements who wish to disrupt peace and tranquillity and create dissension among different communities in the country,” the government APP news agency quoted Musharraf as saying.

Iqbal said three men had been caught. “They had received armed training... at a Jaish centre in Pakistan,” he said. “I cannot release their names but they are being questioned right now.”

Police said the arrested men included a Muslim preacher and his son.

Musharraf banned Jaish and several other Islamic groups early this year as part of a campaign to stem Islamic militancy in Pakistan. Suspected Islamic militants, angered by Musharraf’s support for the US-led war on terror, have been blamed for a spate of attacks on Christians and foreigners in Pakistan.

Yesterday’s blast, which police initially blamed on a grenade, killed two of the girls instantly, decapitating one of them. It wounded 14 people.

About 300 Christians gathered in the central city of Multan to protest against the attack, accusing the government of failing to provide adequate security despite several attacks this year.

“What is the fault of the innocent children who were just praying peacefully'” asked Bishop Andrew Francis at the protest. “Where should we go' Should Christians quit Pakistan'”

About 50 people, most of them children and women, were attending special prayers in the church at the time. One witness said flying glass from smashed windows flew into people’s eyes.

“We were offering prayers and my eyes were shut when something fell inside,” Babur Pervaiz, one of the wounded, told reporters. “When I turned back to see what it was, there was a loud explosion.”

Television footage showed a bloodsoaked rug and human remains scattered around the church.

Police initially said the attackers had thrown a hand grenade, but Iqbal said no metal pieces or shrapnel had been found. “It was some kind of an explosive device,” he said.

Another witness, Nazeer, said worshippers saw two men, whose faces were covered, throwing a “ball-like” object that exploded immediately. “There was smoke and a strange smell, like that of chemicals,” said Nazeer, who uses only one name.

Police officials said Jaish was active in the area and all three detained men were residents of the village.

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