FAISALABAD/SHEIKHUPURA, Nov 12: A mob of 3,000 people, mostly youth, set to fire three churches and homes of two clergymen as well as destroyed a nursing hostel, nuns’ hostel, a convent school and four other houses in Sangla Hill area of district Nankana on Saturday.
The rampaging crowd was protesting against alleged desecration of the Holy Quran.
Some 300 Christian families reside in the tehsil.
It is alleged that on Friday one Yousaf Masih threw a burning matchstick in the Quran Mahal situated in the Sangla Hill stadium which caught fire. This resulted in some copies of the Holy Quran being burnt to ashes.
Students of a seminary run by Anjuman Melad-i-Mustfa and staff of a dispensary adjacent to the Quran Mahal rushed to the spot and saved the remaining copies of the holy book, newspapers and other material.
Ten hours after the incident, announcements were made from mosques asking people to gather in front of the Jamia Madni Masjid of the town. Similar announcement were also made after Fajr prayers on Saturday. People were asked to observe a complete strike and not to send children to schools.
Responding to the call, a strong mob carrying hockey sticks, iron rods, and axes assembled at the appointed place. Eyewitnesses said some youths also carried tins of kerosene oil.
Religious leaders made fiery speeches and allegedly provoked the mob to set to fire each and every place of worship of the minority community.
Obeying the orders, the protesters rushed to Presbyterian Church of Pakistan situated on the Faisalabad Road and set it to fire. All the furniture, fixture, articles, and religious books were consumed by the blaze.
The mob also burnt the residence of Pastor Tajamal Perveiz.
The enraged youth then went to the Church of Holy Spirit in the Mancher Colony and vandalized it as well as the residence of Father Semson Dilawar.
They also caused severe damage to the Saint Anthony High School, destroying its furniture, record, laboratories and library.
Some 650 girls receive education at the school, majority of them Muslim.
Police used tear-gas shells and resorted to baton charge to disperse the crowd.
DPO Tahir Alam told protesters that the accused had been arrested and a case under section 295-B registered in the Sangla Hill police station.
Police later arrested 80 people for taking part in the rioting.
Reuters adds: The attack seems to be planned and organised as the attackers were brought to the site on buses, Catholic Archbishop Lawrence Saldanaha told a news conference in Lahore.
He said the church’s own initial investigation suggested the accusations were motivated by a dispute over money.
Akram Gill, a Christian legislator, said the dispute was due to a gambling debt owed by two Muslims to a Christian.
“They refused to pay the money and created this nuisance,” Gill said.