Pakistani police widen manhunt, day after killing of priest
Pakistani police said they widened their manhunt Monday, searching for two unidentified assailants who shot and killed a Christian priest and wounded another the previous day in the country's northwest.
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.
The attackers fled the scene. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the killing.
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 utilise the latest technology and all available resources to ensure the arrest of the perpetrators.
Christians are a tiny minority in this predominantly Sunni Muslim 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 neighboring 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.
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. pic.twitter.com/T62scXXpB6— Bishop Azad Marshall (@BishopAzadM) January 30, 2022
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 .
Prime Minister Imran Khan's special adviser on religious affairs and religious harmony, Tahir Ashrafi, offered assurances on Twitter, telling Pakistani Christians that the attackers would be apprehended.