By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Suspected Islamic militants opened fire on a Catholic school in Pakistan’s city of Lahore Friday, April 17, injuring a Christian student and two security guards, church sources and rights activists said.
Gunmen were seen shooting at the campus of St. Franciscan High School in Lahore’s Behar colony, the second largest residential area in Pakistan, explained Sardar Mushtaq Gill, director of the Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD) advocacy group.
Christians said at least two gunmen arrived on motorcycles wearing masks. “Panic revolved in the school as gunmen fired,” Gill told BosNewsLife. He said security guards who halted the gunmen were “caught in the firing and got injured.”
Students were reportedly ordered to leave the school premises in what is Pakistan’s second largest city . “The investigation is underway to find out the main reason of attack,” Gill added.
The St Francis High School was founded by the Catholic Church in 1842 as the first Catholic school in Lahore, according to the Vatican’s Fides news agency. “The school is considered one of the best high schools in the city,” Fides said.
Friday’s school attack in Lahore resembled similar violence last month when on March 24 two masked motorcyclists opened fire on policemen guarding St. Peter’s Catholic Church and High School in the Girja Chowk area in Lahore, injuring two passersby, Gill said.
Gill explained the latest violence also followed several attacks “from hardliners” against Christians in recent days.
On Wednesday, April 15, a Christian boy died of his injuries after being torched by Muslims for professing his faith in Jesus Christ. Nouman Masih, 13, “lost the battle of life in [Lahore’s] Mayo Hospital,” following the attack in Lahore’s Gulshan Ravi area, Gill explained.
Earlier, Gill told BosNewsLife that his brother “miraculously survived” after being shot by a Muslim in his lower back on April 1 in the Kasur District of Punjab province. “Pervaiz Gill suffered a bullet wound to his lower back, and was rushed to Jinah Hospital in Lahore where it was removed,” he said.
However, “the perpetrators have not yet been arrested and police refused to give security,” Gill claimed. A police official reportedly said he had “no authorization” to provide the requested protection. Gill has linked the violence and other attacks against his family and himself to his human rights work on behalf of reportedly persecuted Christians in Pakistan.
In a separate incident, Pakistani Christian reporter Shamim Masih was attacked March 29 by Muslim hardliners while visiting a Christian neighborhood in Islamabad, the capital, BosNewsLife learned.
Nazir S. Bhatti, who leads the Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC) party, said two “unknown people on a motorbike” halted the journalist and told him to stop covering Christian persecution.
“The motorbike riders got down from their bike and started beating Shamim Masih. [They] broke his arm and warned him that if he not stopped reporting on Christian issues, they knew his family and home and would teach him and his family a lesson,” Bhatti added in a statement.
The incidents have added to fear among minority Christians, who still struggle to overcome the last month’s suicide bombings that rocked two churches in a Christian area of Lahore, killing as many as 21 people, Gill said.
Islamic militants linked to Pakistan’s Taliban group claimed responsibility for the March 17 blasts in Lahore’s Youhanabad neighbourhood, a mainly Christian area.
The bombers were said to have detonated their explosives at the gates of the Catholic and Protestant churches just minutes after each other.
Gill said after an angry crowd lynched two other suspects involved in the attacks, the government launched a “crackdown on Christians including activists and arrested a number of Christians from Youhanabad and surrounding areas.”
He said the impoverished Christian community has suffered “extremism” and he urged authorities to “eradicate religious extremism and discrimination”, adding that “religious minorities should be given equal rights.”
Gill stressed his group had urged supporters to “pray and then to stand in our support” and lift their “voice for religious liberty”.
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