PESHAWAR: Police could not found any clue of culprits who were involved in firing to kill one priest and other injured in Peshawar on Sunday. The last rites of Pastor William Siraj, who was shot dead by unidentified assailants on Sunday, were performed at the All Saints Church located inside the Kohati Gate in Peshawar on Monday.
The gloomy atmosphere was witnessed during the funeral as the minority community bid farewell to their religious leader. They demanded the authorities concerned to severely punish the culprits involved in the assassination.
The last rites of William Siraj were performed at the All Saints Church here, where members of the Christian community, including his family members, showed up in large numbers. He was later laid to rest in the Wazir Bagh Christian cemetery.
Meanwhile, the CTD registered an FIR of the attack on the complaint of survivor Patrick Naeem as part of investigation.
Mr Naeem said two men on a motorcycle opened fire on the car used by him and the deceased to return home after attending a service at the church.
The priest William Siraj was shot dead and another padre Naeem Patrick wounded on Sunday when unidentified attackers fired on their vehicle near Jamil Chowk on Peshawar’s Ring Road.
The victim, Kohati gate-resident William Siraj, was a retired schoolteacher and priest at a church in the Chamkani area.
According to the police, he and another padre Naeem Patrick were making their way back after Sunday service when the Suzuki Bolan van they were travelling in was shot at near Madina Market. A third passenger, identified as Inayat, remained unhurt.
Siraj’s last rites were performed on Monday at Peshawar’s All Saints’ Church, following which he was laid to rest. Additional policemen were deployed around the church where the priest’s memorial service was attended by more than 3,000 mourners.
According to the police, he and Patrick were making their way back after Sunday service when the Suzuki Bolan van they were travelling in was shot at near Madina Market. A third passenger, identified as Inayat, remained unhurt.
Lady Reading Hospital spokesperson Muhammad Asim told Dawn that Siraj was already dead on arrival, while Patrick had sustained minor injuries.
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 unidentified assailants.
Following the incident, several members of the Christian community, including Bishop of the Diocese of Peshawar Humphrey Sarfaraz Peter, provincial minister Kamran Bangash and police chief Moazzam Jah Ansari had visited the Chamkani church to condole with the victims’ families.
The attack also sparked a protest and members of the Christian community had blocked Peshawar’s Ring Road in protest on Sunday, demanding justice for the murdered man. The attackers fled the scene. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the killing. Father William Siraj, 75, was killed while on his way home after attending Sunday Mass in the city of Peshawar, the capital of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that borders Afghanistan. One of his traveling companions, Father Naeem Patrick, was wounded while a third priest was unharmed in the attack.
Police official Javed Khan said an investigation was underway, taking into account all possibilities. The provincial police chief, Moazzam Jah Ansari, ordered police investigators to utilize the latest technology and all available resources to ensure the arrest of the perpetrators.
Christians are a tiny minority in this country, where about half are members of the Church of Pakistan, a Protestant church. The other half are mostly Catholic. Militants in Pakistan have targeted Christians several times in recent years.
Overall, militant attacks have increased across Pakistan since the Pakistani Taliban ended a cease-fire with the government in Islamabad last month. The Pakistani Taliban, also known as TTP, have become emboldened by the Afghan Taliban’s sweep to power in the neighbouring country in mid-August.
Pakistan’s most senior clergyman, Bishop Azad Marshall, condemned the attack on Twitter and demanded protection for Christians. “We demand justice and protection of Christians from the Government of Pakistan,” he wrote following the attack.
Additional policemen were deployed around Peshawar’s All Saints Church, where a memorial service for Father Siraj was to be held later on Monday. The church was brutally attacked by militants with bombs and gunfire in 2013. Over 70 worshippers were killed and 100 were wounded in that attack, one of Pakistan’s worst targeting Christians.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Religious Harmony Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi on Monday condemned the killing of a priest in Peshawar a day earlier and said that Prime Minister Imran Khan was monitoring the case through the Prime Minister’s Office.
He expressed these views while speaking to the media at Peshawar’s Saint John’s Church where he had gone to offer his condolences.
Expressing grief over the incident, Ashrafi said the purpose behind his visit to Saint John’s Church was to “sit together and resolve matters”.
Anti-Pakistan elements aim to spread fear in the country, he said, adding that the attack on the priest in Peshawar was tantamount to an attack on the entire country.
“Recent attacks are a conspiracy to fuel religious, sectarian [differences],” he said, without specifying which attacks he was referring to.
He said that “the attack on the Christian community [had failed] to reduce morale” and expressed solidarity with the Christian community.
“We and the Christian community are united,” Ashrafi said. “We want to give this message from the church that we are united.”
Earlier, Ashrafi and other religious scholars from different schools of thought offered prayers at the church.
Shehbaz Sharif, other politicians
Separately, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif condemned the priest’s killing and demanded the perpetrators’ immediate arrest.
“Strongly condemn target killing of Christian faith leader William Siraj in Peshawar. There is absolutely no place for such horrific acts in Quaid’s Pakistan,” he tweeted, adding that the killer must be arrested immediately.
Meanwhile, PML-N Vice-President Maryam Nawaz termed the killing in broad daylight “extremely painful and alarming”.
“Pakistan was created with the promise of equal rights for all citizens, especially minorities. Where are those rights? Is there anything that’s functioning correctly under this regime? Shame,” she tweeted.
Hina Jilani, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, also condemned the killing.
In a statement, she said the commission “sees the attack as a blatant assault not only on Pakistan’s Christian community but on all religious minorities whose right to life and security of person remains under constant threat.”
She demanded more steps for the protection of minorities.
HRFP condemns incident
The Human Rights Focus Pakistan (HRFP) condemned the assassination of a Pastor in a brutal attack in the city of Peshawar. In a statement, HRFP president Naveed Walter said this looks like a targeted attack by Islamists. He said members of Christian, Sikhs and Hind communities have been repeatedly targeted as reported by the European Parliament group last year.
Naveed Walter asked why the Pakistani government is not improving security measures especially for Christians and other minorities who are soft targets.
He further urged the government to take practical steps for the protection of minorities, warning that the same incidents could take place in other parts of the country.
The HRFP president said that government appears to be in favour of a pure Islamic country when they said to make Pakistan a state like Madina.
Moreover, the HRFP demanded to bring the culprits to justice and their facilitators immediately.