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Suspects in Deadly Church Attack Detained in Pakistan - 2002-12-26

Police in Pakistan have detained three Islamic militants in connection with a deadly Christmas day attack on a church.

Police officials in the central town of Daska said the suspects belong to a banned militant Islamic group, Jaish-e-Mohammad. The organization reportedly has links with the al-Qaida terrorist network and is fighting Indian rule in the disputed region of Kashmir.

Witnesses said about 50 people were at the church when the attack took place. Two men threw a grenade at the worshipers, instantly killing three children. At least a dozen people were injured. No one has claimed responsibility.

"These terrorist attacks create a tremendous sense of anxiety and unsafe situation for our people, specially women and children," said Andrew Francis, the chairman of Commission for Christian-Muslim Dialogue in Pakistan.

Pakistani authorities had increased security at churches ahead of Christmas celebrations. But Mr. Francis said more needs to be done.

"I appeal to the peace-loving people all over the world and in this country to come forward and condemn these barbaric acts of terrorism on churches," he said, "and a law must be passed that by all means the government must take note of the security of the places of worship."

A Muslim cleric from the Daska area, Mohammad Afzal, has been detained. He is being interrogated for allegedly making hateful remarks against Christians in a recent sermon and urging his followers to attack churches.

Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali has strongly condemned the Christmas day attack. In an official statement, the Pakistani leader said every effort will be made to arrest and punish the culprits. He said the attack is the work of those who want to foment religious and sectarian strife in the country.

There have been a number of attacks against Christians and foreigners in Pakistan this year. Authorities blame Islamic militants outraged by Pakistan's support for the U.S. led war on terrorism in neighboring Afghanistan.