Police in Pakistan’s restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Monday expanded its probe into the terror attack on two Christian priests that left one of them dead and another wounded here, an incident that has shocked the minority community.
Unidentified gunmen opened fire at Bishop William Siraj and Father Naeem Patrick while they were returning home in their vehicle from Sunday mass near Ring Road within Gulbahar police station limits in the city. A third passenger, identified as Inayat, remained unhurt.
Bishop Siraj died on the spot, while Father Patrick sustained injuries in the attack, which the police described it as a ”terrorist act”.
Gulbahar police said that a search operation had been launched in the area to arrest the attackers and a murder case had been registered against the unidentified assailants, the dawn newspaper reported.
Peshawar police chief Abbas Ahsan said that officials from the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) as well as investigators from the local police station were carrying out investigation into the incident.
Father Patrick has registered an FIR into the killing of Bishop Siraj by unknown gunmen with the CTD. The FIR has been registered under various sections of anti terrorist law. Ahsan said that two teams of experts had been formed to probe the incident.
Ahsan said that terrorists were now hitting soft targets and police were determined to ensure the protection of all minorities in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
One of the attackers was wearing a helmet, while the other covered his face with a cloth, he added.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police Chief Moazzam Jah Ansari along with other senior police officers visited the site and were briefed about progress in the case.
He asked the investigation team to take the case as a challenge and nab the culprits at the earliest.
Ansari said that minorities are the backbone in the national development and all resources would be utilised for their protection.
Meanwhile, the last rites of Bishop Siraj were held at the All Saints Church Kohati in the city amid tight security. The police had sealed the nearby areas to prevent any untoward incident.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special adviser on religious affairs and religious harmony, Tahir Ashrafi, assured Pakistani Christians that the attackers would be arrested.
The attack triggered strong condemnation from faith leaders in the country.
Maqsood Ahmed Salfi, spokesman for the Council, said that the attack was a conspiracy as anti-state elements wanted to spread anarchy in the country by fanning religious hatred.
”We condemn it tooth and nail,” he said.
Christian religious leaders, including National Minorities Commission member Albert David, also condemned the attack, the Express Tribune newspaper reported.
David demanded immediate investigation into the incident and arrest of the culprits.
He also called on the government to ensure the safety of Christian institutions and leaders in view of the “rising tide of terrorism.” He stressed on the need for unity to defeat “enemies of Pakistan and peace”.
All missionary schools in Pakistan were closed on Monday to show solidarity with the priests.
Bishop Azad Marshall, Moderator Bishop of the Church of Pakistan, in a tweet on Sunday said, ”we strongly condemn the firing on clergy of Diocese of Peshawar and instant killing of Pastor William Siraj and injuring Rev Patrick Naeem earlier today. We demand justice and protection of Christians from the Government of Pakistan.” Pakistan People’s Party Senator Sherry Rehman strongly condemned the attack.
”Terrorism that targets anyone, especially for their faith, is heinous and must be fought against with the full force of clear, concerted policy and state power. No compromise, no equivocation,” she said in a tweet.
On Sunday, members of the Christian community gathered at the scene and protested the priest’s killing and demanded immediate arrest of his murderers.
Christians make up the second largest religious minority in Muslim-majority Pakistan after Hindus.
According to the 2017 Census, the proportion of Christians in Pakistan was estimated as about 1.27 per cent of the population.