Clashes at Pakistan Mosque Spark Fears of Anti-Christian Backlash

Christian representatives in Pakistan are calling for urgent prayer to prevent a feared backlash against Christians following clashes between security forces and Islamist militants in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

At least seven people have died after a tense standoff erupted into violence at the Lal Masjid mosque, which is linked with two Madrassas (Islamic schools).

For three days now, Militant students have been calling for strict Islamic law, armed with assault rifles, sticks and petrol bombs. They have also been accused of carrying out kidnappings in the area

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U.K.-based persecution watchdog Release International has been informed by its contacts that thousands of extremists have been drawn to the mosque, including women and children who are calling for a jihad. They warn that if the authorities continue shooting they will start suicide bombing across Pakistan.

Partners of Release International, which serves the persecuted church worldwide, fear that the anger of militants will spill over into attacks against the Christian community.

"Whenever there is any incident against Muslims, Christians are always held liable," said a spokesman for CLAAS, the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement. "The Christians of Pakistan are in serious need of prayer."

Tensions escalated at the mosque after students kidnapped Chinese nationals from an acupuncture clinic, accusing them of working in a brothel. Security forces erected barricades around the mosque before students seized guns from the police, prompting a volley of teargas, which then led to an exchange of gunfire, Release International reported.

According to the news agency Agence France-Presse, students brandishing Kalashnikov assault rifles stood outside the mosque chanting "Jihad! Jihad!"

The Pakistan authorities are being encouraged by the international community to clamp down on the extremists.

"Pakistan is causing us great concern," said Andy Dipper, the CEO of Release International. "As the country becomes more unstable, attacks against Christians are increasing. Our partners CLAAS fear that Christians in Pakistan will become the lightning rod for the anger and frustration of extremists in the aftermath of the violence at the mosque.

"Pray for calm," Dipper urged. "Pray for the Christians of Pakistan."

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