Close to 300 Muslim students armed with iron bars and sticks attacked a Christian boys' school in northern Pakistan, reportedly in retaliation to French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo's controversial drawings of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The attack left four Christians injured.
"It is very sad that Islamic radicals attack Pakistani Christians because of Charlie Hebdo. Christians condemn the blasphemous cartoons. It is a shame that even after 67 years since the birth of Pakistan, Christians have not yet been considered Pakistani citizens, but are seen as 'Western allies,'" Nasir Saeed, director of the NGO Center for Legal Aid Assistance & Settlement, told Fides News Agency.
The attack occurred on Panel High School in the city of Bannu, in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Muslim students apparently were able to jump over the outer walls of the school and open the gates before attacking the Christians.
The school has been closed down at least for two days, with additional security measures being considered to protect the students.
Last weekend, Muslim mobs burned down a number of churches and pastors' homes in Niger, also in protest of Charlie Hebdo's drawings. At least 10 people were killed in the clashes, with pastors in the capital Niamey revealing that almost anyone associated with churches was targeted.
Marches have also been held in Pakistan, where Muslims insisted that freedom of speech does not give the right to disrespect religion.
The protests concern the Muhammad drawings published by Charlie Hebdo throughout the years, which are considered offensive to many Muslims around the world. The satirical magazine experienced a terrorist attack organized by al-Qaeda earlier in January, when 12 people were shot dead in its offices in Paris. The two gunmen who carried out the attack, and were later killed, said that they were "avenging" Muhammad.
Charlie Hebdo's cartoons have often targeted Christians as well, as Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill pointed out on Sunday.
"The cartoons of prophet Muhammad are childish caricatures compared to what this publication allows itself in mocking the feelings of Christians," Kirill said in a sermon.
"Today, in saying 'no' to terrorism, killings, violence, we also say 'no' to the inexplicable drive by a certain group of people to deride religious feelings."
Several other Christian leaders, including Pope Francis, have said that it is wrong to ridicule religion in such a way, while also speaking out against terrorism.
"You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others," Francis told reporters after the attack.
The minority Christian community in Pakistan has been targeted both by the ruling government's blasphemy laws that often focus on religious minorities, but also by radical mobs that seek to take justice into their own hands.
Saeed said that Christians in such communities are often targeted for actions in Western countries.
"Whenever incidents occur in western countries, the faithful Pakistanis are attacked. Christians, who are already living under constant fear for their lives, become even more vulnerable," the CLAAS director said. "It is the politicians' duty to create a cultural environment and a society in which Christians and religious minorities feel safe."