Pastor slain at Pakistan church that commemorates Taliban suicide-bombers' 2013 killing of 127
The killing of a pastor and the injuring of another outside a Pakistan church is seen as a pattern of growing violence and intimidation in the country's Peshawar region, bordering Afghanistan.
The brutal act drew widespread condemnation and concern across the Christian spectrum with strong comments coming the World Council of Churches and the Catholic Church.
Rev. William Siraj and Rev. Patrick Naeem had led the Jan. 30 Sunday morning service at Shaheedan-e-all Saints' Church at Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in north western Peshawar when two men on a motorbike drove up and started shooting, Open Doors reported.
"Pakistan's Christians are living in terror," headlined The Spectator magazine on Feb. 1 as it commented, "When will [Prime Minister] Imran Khan wake up to the tide of jihadist violence?"
The victims belong to the Church of Pakistan, a WCC member church.
World Council of Churches acting general secretary Rev. Ioan Sauca expressed deep sadness and concern upon receiving the news of the attack.
Though no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, police have described it as a terrorist act, the WCC said.
The WCC leader pointed to the responsibility of the government and authorities to protect all Pakistan's people and communities from violence and terror.
Sauca said: "We stand in solidarity with the families affected in the diocese of Peshawar, and all Christians and peace-loving citizens of Pakistan, grieving the death of Pastor William Siraj and the wounding of Rev. Patrick Naeem."
"The life and witness of Christians in Pakistan deeply inspires people all over the world," he said. "Even in the challenging context of being a minority and often marginalized, Christians in Pakistan continue to be a blessing to the nation, significantly contributing to the wider Pakistani society."
Siraj, aged 75, died instantly, while Naeem was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.
Their church was founded in memory of All Saints' Church, which was targeted by suicide bombers in September 2013, Open Doors noted.
2013 TERROR CARNAGE
In that attack, by an offshoot of the Pakistani branch of the Taliban, 127 church members were killed and more than 250 were injured. Among those killed was Rev. Siraj's son-in-law; he had been supporting his widowed daughter in the years since.
"We condemn this incident," said Bishop Samson Shukardin of the Catholic Diocese of Hyderabad.
"It is very sad that once again in Peshawar these incidents are taking place, earlier it was the suicide bombings, now for the church of Pakistan this incident of [Siraj]," he told Crux news.
"There is uneasiness. For some time things were quiet, but suddenly not only this incident, but the bombings too. This is worrying. We request the government to investigate, and give security to the minorities especially the Christians," the bishop said.
"Most of the recent spate in jihadist violence is claimed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which last month orchestrated a gun raid at a check-post in Islamabad, the country's capital.," wrote Kunwar Khuldune Shahid in the Spectator.
"The Pakistani Taliban, and their affiliates, have been encouraged by the triumph of of their Afghan counterparts in Kabul. They have also been emboldened by the Pakistani state's softly-softly towards jihadis. Christians – who make up less than two per cent of the population in Pakistan – are inevitably the most vulnerable to the Taliban-led jihadi terror."