ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Police suspect two Muslim extremists shot a Christian to death in Pakistan's Punjab province shortly after the victim was granted bail in a "blasphemy" case and less than a week after Islamist militants killed four members of a Christian family for their faith in the same province.
Latif Masih, 22, died Nov. 22 after two men with pistols shot him near his home in Godhpur, a village 111 kilometers (69 miles) northeast of Lahore.
Inspector Rafique Ahmed said Masih's murder was likely linked to the case against him for allegedly desecrating the Quran, CDN reporting, quoting him as saying, "No Muslim tolerates a man who commits blasphemous acts."
Masih, a Presbyterian church member, has spent five months in jail after being accused of burning pages of the Quran in a case registered last June at the village police station. He was released on bail Nov. 3 after the complainant in the case, Ijaz Ahmed, told the court he was not sure that Masih was guilty, police said, according to Compass.
Masih's mother Rubina Bibi, 60, said two men armed with pistols knocked at the door of their house on Thursday, Nov. 18, and asked him to accompany them.
"A few yards from the house, they suddenly opened fire," she said, telling Compass that Masih was shot five times.
She said the attackers fled by motorbike. "There were policemen present in the street, but no one tried to stop them," she said.
Junaid Masih, the victim's brother, said Latif Masih was innocent of the blasphemy charge. He said that Ahmed had filed the charge because he was trying to take possession of his brother's shop.
"My brother bought a mobile shop in the village," he said. "He displayed a cross inside. Ijaz Ahmed is the son of the local Muslim cleric, and he came to Latif's shop and threw the cross out and demanded that he leave the shop." Junaid Masih added that he suspected Ahmed had arranged for two Muslim associates who were with him to kill his brother.
Inspector Ibrahaim Shah told Compass that when Ahmed filed a complaint in June accusing Latif Masih of burning pages of the Quran and speaking against Islam, he had ulterior motives.
"He also demanded that I help him in getting the shop," Shah said. "While arresting Latif Masih, Ahmed kept saying that he will ensure that no Christian can live or buy a shop in Godhpur village."
Human rights activists condemned the incident as another example of the havoc wrought by Pakistan's widely condemned blasphemy laws. Altaf Hasan, chairman of the Human Rights Foundation-Pakistan, said both the judiciary and the government were afraid of the laws judges fear being attacked for acquitting those accused of blasphemy while government officials defend the laws for the same reason.
"If anyone accused is acquitted by the court, society becomes hostile to him, and this hostility only ends with his death," Hasan said. "Killing a blasphemy accused is considered jihad."
Four others killed
In the village of Mehmoodabad in southern Punjab Province, 356 kilometers (221 miles) from Lahore, police believe six militants belonging to the Islamist terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba Nov. 12 killed four family members because of their Christian faith on Nov. 12.
Taimoor Shahid Jadoon, Multan district coordination officer (DCO), instructed police to register a First Information Report against six as-yet-unnamed members of Lashkar-e-Taiba for the killings.
Found dead at their home were two grown children of 42-year-old schoolteacher Shahista Iqbal Gill Atif Iqbal Gill, 23, and Tehreem Iqbal Gill, 21 as well as her 25-year-old sister-in-law, identified only as Gulshan. Another of Shahista Iqbal Gill's children, 5-year-old Imran Iqbal Gill, later succumbed to his wounds in the hospital.
A fourth child, Arsalan Iqbal Gill, 18, was in serious condition from his wounds, Compass added; both he and his 5-year-old brother bore strangulation marks on their necks.
Gill said she and her husband Javed Iqbal Gill moved to the area six months ago with their four children and sister-in-law, renting a house in Mehmoodabad near Government Islamia High School and attending the Pentecostal King of Kings Church in nearby Multan.
"Initially things were quite peaceful for three or four weeks," Gill told Compass. "But when the staff and the children came to know that I am a Christian, their behavior changed towards me. They even started discriminating against my children at school. After three months, the staff started abusing me."
Gill said she tried to complain but school administrators were unresponsive. Some students from a madrassa (Islamic school) near Mehmoodabad found out that a Christian family had moved to the area and began monitoring them.
Arsalan Iqbal Gill was able to comment to Compass from his hospital bed.
"A few weeks ago I was playing cricket with some boys in the street," he said. "Around five or six young men came they were wearing white dress and green turbans and they took me by my collar and asked me to leave town and never come back."
Shahista Iqbal Gill said she began receiving threats that they must leave the area; Lashkar-e-Taiba extremists called her saying that no non-Muslims were allowed to live there.
The madrassa students also assaulted her son Atif a few weeks prior, she said, but when she complained about that and the threats, the school administrator was deaf to her pleas. Pastor Dilshad Gill of King of Kings Church told Compass that Shahista Iqbal Gill and her family told him about the assault and the threats, and he suggested she file a complaint with police. She feared doing so, he said.
On Nov. 11, Gill spent the night visiting one of her relatives. Her husband was living in Toba Tek Singh while recovering from a broken leg following a car accident. The extremists came to her home and attacked, shooting Atif and Tehreem and cutting the throats of Imran and Gulshan, according to police. Imran was initially considered dead, but when examined he still had a pulse, and he died in the hospital.
A neighbor, Aamir Ali, described to Compass what he witnessed.
"We heard the gunshots, screaming and yelling in the early morning," he said. "As I came out, eight to 10 masked men wearing green turbans escaped in two vehicles," Toyota Hilux pickup trucks.
Initially police thought the murders seemed to be the result of a family dispute, but after taking statements from the neighbors and examining Shahista Iqbal Gill's phone records, district officer Taimoor Shahid Jadoon thought otherwise.
"The numbers taken from Shahista's phone records belong to the members of Lashkar-e-Taiba," Jadoon said. "They had been threatening Shahista and her family."
The officer has instructed police to register a case against six members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, with their names undetermined until they issue a report in two weeks.
After hearing about the murders, relatives of the victims left Multan returned to their native town near Toba Tek Singh, a large city also in Pakistan's Punjab province.