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Two churches, school torched in Sukkur

Two churches, school torched in Sukkur

Author: Waseem Shamsi
Publication: The Jang
Date: February 20, 2006
URL: http://www.jang.com.pk/thenews/feb2006-daily/20-02-2006/main/main4.htm

Two churches, a school and other public property were ransacked and torched during violent protests sparked by the alleged desecration of the Holy Qur'aan by a Christian family in the Freek Hill area here on Sunday.

Police resorted to aerial firing and tear gas shelling to disperse the unruly mob. At least 100 protesters were detained for damaging public property. The irate protesters scattered in the city and forced shopkeepers to shut their shops, bringing business activity to a grinding halt. Later, Rangers were called in, who brought the situation under control.

Reportedly, Saleem Gill, a retired bank officer, and his son-in-law Irfan, both residents of the Freek Hill area, had a dispute over the possession of a house. Irfan reported to the police that Amna, granddaughter of Gill, was reciting the Holy Qur'aan when he (Gill) became angry, snatched the Holy Book from her and desecrated it. Irfan also claimed that he and his father Mukhtiar had converted to Islam some eight years back.

On the complaint, the police arrested Gill, Irfan and other family members. However, during investigations Irfan failed to prove himself a Muslim as he didn't know even the basics of Islam.

On the occasion, clerics questioned Irfan in the presence of the police, but he failed to give satisfactory replies to their queries. Allah Wasayo Indhar, Pesh Imam of the Old Sukkur Mosque, lodged an FIR (15/2006) against Irfan, accusing him of desecrating the Holy Qur'aan, because according to the police Irfan had tried to implicate his father-in-law in a concocted case while he himself was involved in the desecration act.

As the news broke out, hundreds of angry youths took to the streets and ransacked whatever came their way. They gathered in front of C-Section police station, hurled stones and demanded the alleged desecrator be handed over to them.

Later, the unruly mob ransacked and set alight St. Saviour's Church on Queen's Road, a school and a transformer, plunging a big area into darkness. A heavy contingent of Rangers rushed to the scene and dispersed the mob.

In the meantime, another mob torched St. Mary's Church near the DIG office on Eid Gah Road. The protesters also vandalised neon signs and hoardings throughout the city. The Rangers personnel apprehended scores of protesters allegedly involved in the violence.

No police official was available in their offices, and when this correspondent contacted them on their cellphones they refused to comment. However, sources told The News that the family members of Irfan were being kept in police custody for their safety.

Panic gripped the city, particularly the Christian community, after the violence. The incident was not linked to the publication of blasphemous caricatures. Agencies add: "They (the protesters) were trying to burn the churches, but police dispersed the crowd," Sindh government spokesman Salahuddin Haider told AFP.

Haider said the trouble erupted after accusations that a teenage Christian boy had desecrated the Holy Qur'aan. Protesters blocked roads by burning tyres, he said, adding that paramilitary troops had been called out. "The situation is tense but under control," Haider said.

There were no worshippers in the church but a private security guard fled the building as it was attacked, said Aftab Hale Pota, chief of Sukkur district police. Police tear gas stopped the mob from attacking another church in the area, Pota said. Another official at the police control room in Sukkur, Ali Hassan, said earlier that the people who burned the church were protesting against the cartoons.

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