QUETTA: Christians say they are being driven from one of Pakistan’s major cities after a string of deadly terrorist attacks claimed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), reported Sunday Telegraph.
The jihadist militant group has said it carried out two gun attacks that have killed six Christians in Quetta this month so far, and also bombed a church in the city shortly before Christmas.
The recent attacks in the southwestern city come on top of increasing persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan, where Christians and others have faced mob violence and accusations of blasphemy.
Christians told the Sunday Telegraph that many in the community were fleeing Quetta fearing for their lives and being chased from homes where they had lived for generations.
ISIL attacked and oppressed Christians after the militant group captured swathes of territory in the Middle East to establish its so-called caliphate.
ISIL has allegedly established a franchise in Pakistan, largely by recruiting established Sunni Islamist militants, but the country’s religious minorities have also long been targets for other extremist groups.
The terror group said its militants in Pakistan killed two Christians in a motorbike drive-by shooting as they left church last week, and shot dead four members of a family a day after Easter.
Two suicide bombers killed 10 and wounded scores when they stormed Quetta’s Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in December.
The recent attacks and a campaign of threatening letters have prompted many of Quetta’s 50,000-strong Christian population to consider fleeing to the port of Karachi.
One Christian, who declined to be named, told the Sunday Telegraph: “We have been living for centuries in Quetta but due to targeted killings of the Christian community, I have lost nine of my family members and friends.
“Many of our relatives shifted to Karachi and we will also leave Quetta due to the deteriorating security situation.
“We will rebuild our lives and establish our business in some other peaceful city, which is really a difficult task. Leaving home town is quite tough but we have no other option”.
Pastor Simon Bashir, who was leading a service in Bethel Memorial Methodist Church at the time of the attack, said the incidents had left his congregation “afraid and concerned about their security”.
Christians make up less than two per cent of Pakistan’s population of 207 million, and many hold only poorly paid manual and labouring jobs.
As well as being the targets of extremist militants, they also face spurious blasphemy charges.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan last week attacked the government for doing too little to protect minorities and for not pushing back against religious bigotry.
Saroop Ijaz, the Pakistan researcher for Human Rights Watch, said: “The recent attacks on places of worship of minorities and target killings in Quetta highlight the increasing insecurity faced by religious minorities in the country.
“The legal and institutional discrimination against non-Muslims provides a toxic, enabling environment for such acts of violence to be perpetrated against them. The impunity is heightened by the complete failure of the Pakistan government to hold perpetrators of past attacks on churches accountable”.