Pakistani officials widen search for attackers of Christian org
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistani investigators said Saturday they had identified one of the assailants responsible for an attack on a Christian hospital and had detained members of outlawed militant groups who allegedly trained him and others at their camps in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.
A spokesman for Pakistan's Interior Ministry. declined to release the man's identity or identify the militant groups that trained him.
Police said they were searching for between 15 and 20 militants who have split into small groups to attack Western and Christian interests in Pakistan in response to military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf's support for the U.S. war against Afghanistan's Taliban and al-Qaida.
Security agencies have detained members of the outlawed groups in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, allegedly for training the extremists at their camps, intelligence officials said, on condition of anonymity.
In January, Musharraf outlawed five major militant groups under pressure from India and the United States after two of them were alleged by New Delhi to have taken part in a bloody attack on the Indian parliament.
The two attacks took place not far from the capital Islambad. On Monday, three men burst through the gates of the Christian School in Murree, about 40 miles northeast of Islamabad, opened fire and killed six Pakistanis. Police say the same three men blew themselves up with grenades the following day after being released from a police checkpoint in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.
On Friday, three men lobbed grenades at women leaving a Christian church in Taxila, about 20 miles west of Islamabad. Three nurses were killed and 25 people were injured. One of the assailants died in the attack from a shrapnel wound. All of the victims in both attacks were Pakistanis.
One of three extremists, believed responsible for the school attack, reportedly told witnesses in Kashmir about the other militants before his group committed suicide on Tuesday.
The man, whose identity has not been made public, said the other groups also "plan to carry out similar attacks on Americans and nonbelievers," according to regional police commander Moravet Shah.
On Saturday, Pope John Paul II expressed his condolences for both attacks. The U.S. State Department also issued a statement condemning the church attack.
"As Pakistan stood with the people of the United States after Sept. 11, we now stand with Pakistan in confronting this common enemy," the State Department said.
The pope said he was "deeply grieved" by the attacks and offered prayers for "all who are suffering as a result of these heinous crimes."
Local Christian leaders, meanwhile, said Saturday that they would not let the fear of future attacks deter them from worship.
"We won't cancel services," said Rev. Khalid Pervaiz, pastor of the United Pentecostal Church in Islamabad. "We will continue things the way we are doing them. Our members are not afraid. We are not afraid. God is still in control."
Pervaiz said he had spoken with other church leaders who felt the same and would hold services as usual, albeit with increased security measures including frequent police patrols, identity checks and inspections with bomb-detecting equipment.
Church officials also planned to hold prayer services at individual churches on Thursday for the victims of the two attacks, Pervaiz said.
The hospital in Taxila, which is supported by the U.S. Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan, was founded in 1922 and treats mostly poor Muslim patients. Outpatient services remained suspended on Saturday because of the attack.
The international school in Murree catered to the children of foreign Christian missionaries working in south Asia.