MANDI BAHAUDDIN, Oct 10: The 200-strong Ahmadi community of village Mong, located eight kilometres from here, is struggling to come to terms with the prevailing atmosphere of fear after Friday’s terrorist attack there on a place of worship. The unknown assailants, two masked men, killed eight people and wounded 18 in a pre-dawn raid.

The dead included a class-IX student and two expatriates who were visiting their families.

A visit to the area on Sunday showed the clock at the worship place had stopped functioning after the incident. The prayer mats were stained with the blood of the killed and the injured. The walls of the prayer hall had bullet marks, which were circled by the law enforcement personnel and pieces of windowpanes lay scattered on the floor.

People coming from different parts of the country had gathered outside the site of the tragedy, consoling with the bereaved families.

No official of the law enforcement agencies was present on the scene to keep a vigil after the gruesome attack.

The community, which hardly makes one per cent of the total population of 20,000 of the village, may never feel the same again after the incident, feared a resident.

The people and the police investigators agreed that it was a “planned attack” and the assailants likely belonged to the area. The police and the community dispelled the impression that any financial or other plausible motive was behind the attack. “The act was motivated by sheer hatred,” they said.

The worship place — Baitul Hamd-i-Ahmadia — is located in a densely populated Rajputaan street. “It is not easy for a stranger to make an escape from the street unless he knows the area well,” said the people. The worship place does not have a direct access to the main road.

Three masked men had reportedly come on a motorcycle before dawn. Two of them entered the worship place while the third stayed out after parking the motorcycle a few yards away from the site, said a witness.

Dr Masood Ahmad Raja, who lives next door to the scene of the crime, told this reporter that he usually did not miss the dawn prayer. “But on Friday, I had to see a patient. On my return home, I saw two masked men running in the street, heading towards a motorcycle with a third man riding it. First, I thought they were after the motorcyclist, but they sat behind him and sped away.”

None of the 45 prayer offerers could comprehend initially that they had come under attack till many were hit by bullets.

“I thought a wire had struck the ceiling fan and that was making the noise, then a bullet hit me in the arm and I fell down,” Sadiq Sherazi, the prayer leader, said. He said his son was also offering the prayer in the first row but he luckily escaped an injury.

Basharat Ahmad Raja who sustained a limb injury said the assailants finished their job in seconds, giving them no chance to duck.

His 13-year-old son, Tauseeq Ahmad, who escaped unscathed looked terrified and could not narrate the incident when asked. Omar Farooq, a class-IV student, said he was standing in the second row when the attackers opened fire. A bullet hit him in the right arm. “I am the only child of my parents and I think their prayers have saved my life.”

Two victims — Aslam, 65, and Yasir, 15, — were father and son, and others were close relatives. Another two victims Raza Abid Khan and Altaf were expatriates. Raza had returned from South Africa three days before the incident. Dr Saleem of the DHQ Mandi Bahauddin said only one injured was in a critical condition.

Mong is an area where most people earn their livelihood through farming. A small number of people have also gone abroad.

The victims’ families were in a state of shock and held the government responsible for not nailing down the extremists involved in such hate crimes.

They said an extremist organization was spreading hatred against their community with impunity. After the conclusion of its annual congregation in Rabwa, the said organization had distributed hate literature, inciting people to kill non-Muslims for securing a place in heaven.

A community leader said their community had never retaliated after any such incident as it sought justice from God.

Dispelling the impression that they were not enjoying good relations with the people of other faiths in the area, he said neighbours were helping the victims’ families a lot to mitigate their suffering.

He urged the government to take immediate measures to guard their places of worship across the country, especially during dawn and evening prayers.

Lamenting the police attitude, the area people said the law enforcement agencies did not even deploy a policeman outside the ill-fated worship place. The police turned a deaf ear to their requests, they informed.

DSP (investigation) Mushtaq Ahmad said the police could not deploy a force outside each place of worship owing to a staff shortage. He said he had asked the residents to deploy private guards to meet any such eventuality in the future.

Regarding the progress in the case, he said the police had taken some 15 people, belonging to different militant organizations, into custody. “Most of them are residents of Mandi Bahauddin and adjacent areas. It is clear that only someone familiar with the area could have committed the crime. We have also taken a number of heads of militant organizations in other districts like Gujrat and Gujranwala into custody.”

The DSP said the law enforcement agencies were also investigating the alleged distribution of hate literature.

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