It was October 28, 2001, day of Sunday; 8 o’clock in morning, city of Bahawalpur in Southern Punjab of Pakistan and place was St. Dominic Church of Catholic Diocese of Multan where Pastor Rev. Emmanuel Allah Ditta, of Church of Pakistan had to lead Sunday Services instead of routine Catholic Congregation that day.
Elishba, a six years old girl walks holding hand of his father in St. Dominic Church for Sunday Services as usual where she kneels down and tries to sing hymns; Elishba closes her eyes when Pastor Emmanuel Allaha Ditta offers blessing to end prayers but suddenly silence brakes out with chanting of slogans by three masked men “Afghanistan and Pakistan the "graveyard of Christians." "Allahu Akbar" (God is most great) and uproar of gunfire.
Elishba sees Pastor Emmanuel falling on floor and masked men turning their Kalashnikovs on worshipers and people running towards Altar to save their lives. She remembers nothing after hearing cries of women, men and children and blood spreading on Church floor mats
It is story of eyewitness Baby Elishba who was in St. Dominic Church Bahawalpur when Islamic militants attacked Christian worshipers and killed 16 and injured dozens on October 28, 2001. That 6 years old girl was found under dead bodies of worshipers with two bullet wounds on her legs.
When I talked with Elishba on October 29, 2013, her age is 19 years and she is student of a college but she is scared to speak about that horrible incident of October 28, 2001.
Father of Elishba also survived with bullet wounds on his arms but there were 16 unlucky worshipers who were martyred and many injured in an Islamist militants attack on Sunday Services at St. Dominic Church which started at 8; 52 am and ended at 8: 55 am. (only 3 mintues)
Elishba told me “I am 19 years old now and student of 12th grade in a college. I have one brother and three sisters. I was 6 years old when incident of St. Dominic Church happened on October 28, 2001. I saw blood everywhere in Church. I was told later that I was found beneath 12 dead bodies when attackers left Church and rescuers approached. My father was also victim of firing of Islamists who’s right arm received bullet injury”
“I am grateful to Lord Jesus Christ that he saved us and many other worshipers to glorify his name in front of others” she said
She told me “There was fear among Christians of Bahawalpur after incident of October 28, 2001” and she became silent when she was trying to portray horror details of that incident.
I felt pain in her voice when Elishba said “I am fearful to tell all about that horrifying situation in Church because till this day I am scared of being killed if I speak”
I also became silent for few moments and started thinking “What kind of human being we are? What type of Christians we are Pakistani Christians? Why we forget our martyrs? Why there was not any memorial service in any Church of Pakistan and wherever Pakistani Christian Diaspora is on October 28, 2013, to remember 16 martyrs of St. Dominic Church of Bahawalpur city? Why we never celebrate anniversaries of Niamat Ahmar, Buntu Masih, Manzoor Masih and others who were killed by Muslim extremists on accusations of blasphemy? Why we not gather for 8 Christians burnt alive in Gojra by Muslim mob every year on August 1st? Then, a very big question make my head spin; Are, we Pakistani Christians a live nation or a community which died with its traditions and values?
Let us view incident of St. Dominic Church of Bahawalpur under facts: The Bahawalpur is about 60 miles from City of Multan in Southern Punjab province of Pakistan.
The city of Bahawapur was headquarters of a banned Islamist organization “Jaish-e-Mohammad” which was formed by establishment of Pakistan to recruit Mujahideen for terror acts in occupied Kashmir by India. The Mujahid of “Jaish-e-Mohammad” were trained by ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) of Pakistan Army and provided full security in Pakistan to spread terror in Kashmir.
On September 11, 2001, terrorists attacked WTC and Pentagon in USA and killed thousands of innocent civilians on which war was declared against Terrorists by former US President George W. Bush. The US Administration demanded Afghanistan to handover Osama Bin Laden and his affiliates of “Al Qaida” or to face war on which high alert was announced in Pakistan to provide adequate security to Churches and Christians to counter backlash if USA attacks.
Four police guards were deployed at St. Dominic Church in city of Bahawalpur also like other Pakistani cities but three policemen went for breakfast on morning of October 28, 2001, leaving behind only one policeman when service started at 8; 00 AM, while they also knew that a week earlier, some men had approached the police guards, questioning them about church timings.
The Islamists in Pakistan took note of visit of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Pope John Paul II's special envoy, Archbishop Paul Joseph Cordes, to Pakistan in same week and Al-Qida issued a press note of Christmas Bloodbath in newspapers which confirmed possible attack on Christians in Pakistan.
The Islamic militants planned to kill as many as Christian worshipers in St. Dominic Church on October 28, 2001 but Catholic Worship Service was switched with Protestant Worship Time for Sunday. There were Catholic congregates in majority in Bahawalpur city while with agreement with Catholic Parish Priest Fr. Rocas Tatrias, the congregation of Church of Pakistani in city was also performing Sunday Services in St. Dominic Church as they had not own worship place. Therefore, more than one hundred members of Church of Pakistan were in St. Dominic Church at time on incident.
According to PCP information’s, six men on three motorcycles rode up to Saint Dominic's Church and pulled out AK-47 assault rifles, shooting police guard before entering the packed church. Leaving their accomplices outside to stand watch and shoot any of their victims who managed to escape. The men were bearded, conventionally dressed in loose cotton shirts, and unmasked. The police guard might not have realized anything was wrong until the bags were unzipped and Kalashnikov assault rifles were pulled out. By then, it was too late for him, and for the people praying inside St Dominic's.
The gunmen locked the doors and sprayed bullets at the Protestant congregation who were using the church at the time, riddling the walls with bullet holes. Five of the dead were children, including two brothers of two and eight years old. Four were women, and half a dozen of them were members of the same family named Jamshed Akhtar, a government clerk, his wife, Rifat, and five of their children, as well as Jamshed's brother Javed and his wife, Nargis.
On October 29, 2001, the daily Nawa-e-Waqt, Multan, received a fax from the militant group Lashkar-e-Umar, claiming responsibility for the incident. The fax stated, “We have accepted the crusade announced by US President George W. Bush. This is the answer to Bush. If he does not stop attacks on Afghanistan, we will continue to take action.” Shafiq, the person who faxed the message was arrested. More than 100 suspects in the Bahawalpur Church killings were detained by Pakistan police authorities including of at least three hardline Islamic militant groups, Jaish-e Mohammed, Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
The government of Pakistan paid compensation of one lakh rupees (over $1,600) to the families of the 16 Christians and one Muslim guard killed and to injured in the attack
In July 2002 four people were arrested in connection with the Church massacre but on July 31, 2002, Police in Pakistan's Bahawalpur district said in a statement that the four were killed on Sunday when a police vehicle carrying the four came under attack which meant that government not wanted any one to bring before courts to ensure justice.
Now, I understand why Elishba is scared to speak because killers of Christian worshipers are walking free in streets of Bahawalpur.
There is hundreds of millions of US Aid in Pakistan after 2001, but none is allocated to furnish benches in St. Dominic Church in Bahawalpur City not any Christian victim is awarded with USA or EU visa for asylum nor any financial support is given to victims who were just massacred as backlash on interests of Western nations in Afghanistan.
Weather, they are victims of Gojra, Joseph Colony Lahore, All Saints Church Peshawar or St. Dominic Church Bahawalpur, no one wants to live in Islamic Republic of Pakistan due to rising incidents of violence against them on religion grounds but what a fate?
USA, Canada, Australia and EU is ready to give permanent residencies to Muslim terrorists of Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Egypt and Iran but reluctant to accept Pakistani Christians as refugees or issue them even visit visas.
Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, President of Pakistan Christian Congress PCC in a statement said that Australia offers asylum to hundreds of thousands of Muslim Hazara community members after Quetta incidents and some EU countries offer permanent residencies to Muslims of Syria but Australia, EU, Canada and USA never showed any human sympathy towards victims of Bahawalpur, Gojra or Peshawar Churches victims who were only assassinated that they are Christians which is religion of NATO forces.
PCC Chief said that more than fifty accused of blasphemy laws are hiding in different cities of Pakistan who can be killed by Muslim extremists in their cities but EU, Australia, Canada and USA are reluctant to issue visa to them.
“I appeal all human rights supporting countries to award asylum to Christian victims of violence, oppression and Islamic blasphemy laws in Pakistan” said Nazir Bhatti
(By Pakistan Christian Post PCP investigative team)