PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani police expanded their manhunt Monday for two unidentified assailants who shot and killed a Christian priest and wounded another a day earlier in the country’s northwest.
Father William Siraj, 75, was killed on his way home after celebrating Sunday mass in the city of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan. One of his traveling companions, Father Naeem Patrick, was injured while a third priest emerged unscathed from the attack.
The attackers fled. No group has claimed responsibility for the murder.
Hina Jilani, chairperson of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, on Monday condemned the killing. In a statement, she said the commission viewed the attack “as a flagrant attack not only on the Christian community in Pakistan, but on all religious minorities whose right to life and security of person remains under constant threat. “. She asked for more measures for the protection of minorities.
Provincial Police Chief Moazzam Jah Ansari has ordered investigators to use the latest technology and all available resources to ensure the arrest of the perpetrators.
Christians are a tiny minority in the predominantly Sunni Muslim country, where about half are members of the Church of Pakistan, a Protestant church. The other half is predominantly Catholic. Militants in Pakistan have targeted Christians on several occasions in recent years.
Overall, militant attacks have increased across Pakistan since the Pakistani Taliban ended a ceasefire with the government in Islamabad last month. The Pakistani Taliban, also known as the TTP, was emboldened by the Afghan Taliban’s rise to power in the neighboring country in mid-August.
Pakistan’s top cleric, Bishop Azad Marshall, condemned the attack on Twitter and asked for protection from Christians. “We demand justice and protection for Christians from the government of Pakistan,” he wrote after the attack.
Extra police were deployed around All Saints Church in Peshawar, where a memorial service for Father Siraj was attended by more than 3,000 mourners on Monday. The memorial service was held in the same church that was attacked by militants with bombs and gunfire in 2013. More than 70 worshipers were killed and 100 were injured in the attack, one of the worst targeting Christians in Pakistan.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s special adviser for religious affairs and religious harmony, Tahir Ashrafi, offered assurances on Twitter, telling Pakistani Christians that the attackers would be apprehended.