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Six killed in attack on Murree school

August 06, 2002

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JHIKA GALI, Aug 5: Six people were killed and at least three wounded on Monday when masked men burst into the compound of a Christian missionary school in Murree and opened fire.

The Australian principal of Murree Christian School, Russell Morton, told Reuters two security guards, a cook and a carpenter were among the dead.

A receptionist, who was badly wounded in the crossfire, may also have died of his wounds, he said, adding that a Filipino woman, who was visiting her children, had been hit in the hand.

“This is a disaster for the foreign missionary community,” he said in Jhika Gali, where the school is located just outside Murree.

“They wanted to hit at the missionary community. What better way than to hit at their kids?”

THIRD STRIKE: Police said it was too soon to say who was behind the shooting, but it was at least the third fatal strike against a Christian minority target since the country began supporting the US-led war on terror after the Sept 11 attacks.

Reverend Saeed Javed, a pastor and father of one of the victims and the uncle of another, blamed terrorists.

“Personally, I think this is a terrorist attack,” he told Reuters. “Good Muslims could not do this.”

Khurseed Abbassi, the Mayor of Murree, told Reuters that six Pakistanis died — two of them Christians and four Muslims.

Blood stains could be seen in the sentry box just outside the school compound and around the church within its walls. Three guards exchanged fire for 10-15 minutes with the three intruders before they escaped apparently unharmed.

The assailants fired indiscriminately, hitting an empty boarding house, but according to witnesses, had walked past the school building where children were in class.

Around 150 missionary children aged six to 18 study there, including about 30 Americans.

CRISIS MEETING: Morton said the school was holding a crisis meeting to decide whether to continue classes or close down temporarily. The children have all been sent home.

Dozens of heavily armed soldiers milled around the scene of the incident and an army helicopter hovered overhead.

The gunmen opened fire just after the children had returned to classes after a morning break at 11.00am, Morton said.

“It is my opinion that this attack was designed to cause trouble for the Pakistan authorities,” he said. “The school has been operating for 46 years and we have never had any problems with the local community in the past.”

President Musharraf’s support for the US-led campaign against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan has angered militant groups, who have been blamed for a string of attacks on foreign targets in recent months.

The violence has also targeted the Christian community.

A grenade attack in March killed five people in a church in Islamabad mainly used by foreign nationals.—Reuters