Taliban Attack, Kill Christians in Pakistan Town

Masked Taliban militants attacked and killed at least one Christian and injured dozens of others this past week in a Christian colony in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, according to local media.

Irfan Masih, 11, was shot execution style by the Taliban and died in the hospital, the government of Sindh province confirmed, according to Pakistan Christian Post on Friday. Meanwhile, Imran Masih and Qadoos Masih, who were also shot, are in critical condition in the hospital.

More than 100 Taliban militants with machine guns had reportedly attacked the Christian colony in Taiser town on April 21. A few days prior to the attack, the group had chalked threats on local churches and on Christian homes in the town, insisting that Christian residents convert to Islam. Residents of Taiser are overwhelmingly Muslim.

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When the Christians saw the threats, they organized a demonstration to call on authorities to protect their community. The police, however, refused to send officers or guards for the church.

A few days later, the Taliban came to Taiser and dragged Christians out of their homes at gunpoint. According to Pakistan Christian Post, the gunmen shouted, "You infidels have to convert to Islam or die. Why did you clean off the warnings we chalked on your church and the doors of your houses? How dare you stage a procession against the Taliban?"

In total, three churches were burned down along with dozens of Christian owned shops.

Dr. Nazir Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress, said an attacked by the Taliban had been feared for months but no preventative action was taken.

He said the attack on Christians is "a warning bell" for the Sindh government and warned that the Taliban is planning to expand Shariah, or Islamic law, in Karachi. The Christian colony, he added, was the "first victim" of the group's goal.

Bhatti, a well-known human rights activist, has appealed to the United States and the European Union to press the Pakistani government to stop Talibanization in the country and keep Shariah from being enforced.

Last week, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan approved a deal that allows Shariah to be administered by Muslim leaders with ties to the Taliban. The deal has drawn heavy criticism from those inside Pakistan as well as the international community, including the United States.

Proponents of the deal say the Taliban has agreed to stop its violent insurgencies in exchange for Shariah in the Malakand division in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. The region, which borders Afghanistan, is known to be a haven for terrorist groups.

Critics of the agreement, however, argue that it has emboldened the Taliban, pointing to examples such as the movement of terrorist group members into other areas of Pakistan following the deal, and the statement by a Taliban spokesman this week in which he said he welcomes Osama bin Laden to Swat valley, which the group now controls.

"This is another deeply worrying development for Christians in Pakistan," said Andy Dipper, CEO of Christian persecution watchdog group Release, in a statement Friday. "Strict Islamic law has been introduced in Swat valley to appease the militants and the Taliban have been looking for ways to aggressively expand the rule of Shariah law.

"Today we are witnessing the dire consequence for Christians as the Taliban seek to extend their influence by force – in the biggest city in Pakistan," he continued. "The government must act now to safeguard the freedom of all its citizens – Christian and Muslim alike – from armed extremists."

Release partners in Pakistan confirmed that police and paramilitary forces are now protecting the Christian community following this past week's attack.

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