Pakistani authorities arrested a woman on Saturday on suspicion of planning to target Christian gatherings on Easter Eve in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province.
Punjab’s Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) said Noreen Laghari, a second year student at Pakistan's Liaquat University of Medical Science, returned from Syria with the intent of targeting minority Christians in Pakistan.
Laghari had left her home in Pakistan for college in early February of this year and never returned home.
On Saturday, the country’s security forces raided a suspected location in Lahore and rounded up four suspected Islamic State militants, including Laghari.
“I think the girl [Laghari] established contacts with them [IS militants] through social media. She was apparently influenced by IS propaganda and then left her home,” Rana Sanaullah, Provincial Law Minister in Punjab told VOA’s Urdu service.
Sanaullah added that Laghari had traveled to Syria to join IS before returning to Pakistan. She has reportedly informed her family through social media that she had reached the “Land of Caliphate”, a reference to Islamic State-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria.
According to a statement released by Punjab’s Counter Terrorism Department, Laghari joined the Islamic State in Syria and returned with an agenda.
“Noreen came back to Pakistan six days ago after spending two months in Syria,” the CTD statement read, according to BBC.
She apparently received military training in Syria.
Laghari’s family, however, rejected allegations against her and charged that Laghari’s case is a criminal, not a terrorist case. The family said that she had been kidnapped by unknown people in early February.
“She was a passive and calm person and was even afraid of cockroaches,” her brother Afzal Laghari told VOA.
Her father Abdul Jabbar Laghari, a professor at Sindh University, said that his daughter’s views were not ‘radical’ to have led her to join a militant group.
Islamic State has made inroads in the mountain regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan recently and brands itself as the Islamic State of Khorasan, a title that distinguishes the militant group in the region from its main branch in Iraq and Syria.
In 2016, Aftab Sultan, Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau Chief, warned that IS was an emerging threat in the country and that hundreds of fighters linked to local banned religious groups had left for Syria to join IS ranks there.
According to analysts, IS recruiters have been actively attempting to lure educated Pakistani youth, including women, to join the terror group.
“IS has been attracting students, educated individuals and youths from well-off families in Pakistan,” security analyst Ikram Sehgal told VOA. “The challenge is how to present a counter-argument to stop the expansion of the IS ideology in the country.”
Last year, authorities in the southern port city of Karachi discovered a network of women raising funds for Islamic State.
Pakistan has come under frequent criticism from U.S. officials over its inability to curb homegrown militancy and extremism in the county.
In its defense, Pakistan says the government is determined to root out extremism from the country and has done a lot to address the issue of terrorism and extremism in the country.
VOA’s Muhammad Jalil Ahtar contributed to this report from Islamabad.