One Killed and Six Injured in Pakistan Easter Service Shooting

Four armed assailants opened fire on a Church near Lahore, Pakistan yesterday, killing one Christian worshipper and injuring six others, persecution watchdog groups reported today.

The attack on Pakistan's Victory Church International in the village of Khambay, also known as the New Apostolic Church, took place around 10 a.m. during an Easter morning service, according to reports earlier today from International Christian Concern (ICC) and the Voice of the Martyrs (VOM).

According to VOM sources, members of a Muslim family that had long been opponents of the congregation entered the church property as the congregation was worshipping and began shooting. Some reports indicate that there were children playing outside.

One of the victims, Arshad (or Irshad) Masih, was reportedly shot and killed as he went outside of the church building to find out what was happening. Six other believers, whose exact names have not yet been verified, also came out from church and were fired upon. The attackers fled, following the shooting.

VOM reports that yesterday's incident comes after a weekend of threats and intimidations by the Dogar family against the congregation. According to the persecution watchdog group, the 150-member church was forced to cancel their Good Friday and Saturday night services when the family threatened to kill anyone who came to the church. The Dogar family was reportedly seeking to take possession of the land that New Apostolic Church and its graveyard has been located on for the last century.

According to an account by the ICC, the Christian community targeted in the attack rebuffed pressure from Muslim neighbors to give up land, which had risen significantly in value. That pressure, and a history of attacks on the Pakistani Christian community, led the worshippers at VCI to ask for police protection for their Easter service, ICC reported. But while the church’s request was granted and police were stationed at the entrance of the church to prevent such an attack, ICC reported that the police guarding the church had left their posts just prior to the deadly attack.

"Unfortunately, Christians in persecuted areas around the world find themselves targets of attack especially on the holidays of Christmas and Easter," ICC wrote in a statement released earlier this morning. "This is the latest incident in a long string of attacks on the Christian community, further illustrating how the Christian community in Pakistan exists as a cowed and second-class citizenry due the nature of fundamentalist Islamic societies and their practice of persecuting religious minorities."

VOM sources report that three members of the Dogar family have been arrested in connection with the attack, while two other suspects are still at large. Meanwhile, the injured are in hospital in Lahore, one of them in critical condition.