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Anti-Taliban minister among 15 killed in Pakistan suicide attack

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Islamabad: At least 15 people, including home minister of Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province, were killed and 23 others injured in a suicide attack that destroyed a political camp in Attock district on Sunday, officials said.

Spokesperson of the rescue department Deeba Shehnaz said that 15 bodies were shifted to hospital while two of the injured were in critical condition and were undergoing treatment in the intensive care unit, Pakistani media reported.

A suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden vest when Home Minister Shuja Khanzada was hearing complaints from residents in his native village Shadi Khan, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said.

“There were two suicide bombers, one stood outside the boundary wall and the second one went inside and stood in front of the minister,” Punjab Inspector General Mushtaq Sukhera told reporters.

“The blast by the bomber standing outside ripped the wall which caused the roof to collapse on the minister and the people gathered there,” he said.

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Image Source: www.dailymail.co.uk

The roof of the camp collapsed and the whole building was leveled to the ground due to the impact of the explosion.

Police, security forces and rescue teams rushed to the site and took out the bodies and injured from the debris.

Deputy Superintendent of Police Shaukat Shah, who was present at the camp to look after the security of the minister, was also killed in the attack.

According to police officials, at least 100 people were present at Khanzada’s office and many of them were buried underneath the rubble.

The minister had reportedly received threat calls from terror organisations since the launch of the targeted operation against the terrorists in the province over the past eight months.

A retired army officer-turned-politician, Khanzada was given charge of the province’s home department in October last year and had successfully set up an anti-terrorism squad that was conducting major operations against terror outfits in the province — Pakistan’s most populous.

According to interior ministry sources, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Taliban splinter group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for the audacious suicide attack.

The group’s spokesperson was quoted as saying that the attack on Khanzada was to avenge the killing of their chief Malik Ishaq in a police encounter on July 29.

Ishaq, along with his two sons and 11 others, was killed in a police operation in Punjab’s Muzaffargarh district.

President Mamnoon Hussain, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan and Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations Asim Bajwa condemned the blast and expressed condolences and sympathies with the families of the deceased persons.

(IANS)

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Pakistan Reacts Sharply To U.S. Religious Freedom Charges

China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are also included in the U.S. list of countries accused

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Pakistan
A Pakistani nun holds a candle during a vigil for victims of a deadly suicide bombing in a park, March 28, 2016, in Lahore. VOA

Pakistan is denouncing a U.S. decision to place it on a list of countries Washington says are the worst offenders of religious freedom.

“Pakistan does not need counsel by any individual country how to protect the rights of its minorities… there are serious questions on the credentials and impartiality of the self proclaimed jury involved in this unwarranted exercise,” the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday in a strongly-worded statement.

The reaction comes a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced his designation of “countries of particular concern” that allegedly have engaged in or tolerated ”systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

Freedom Violations

The countries on the blacklist are exposed to punitive sanctions, but Pompeo waived them for Pakistan, citing U.S. national interests.

Pakistan had until now been on a U.S. watch list for governments that have “engaged in or tolerated” severe violations of religious freedom.

Pakistan
Pakistani volunteers collect debris from an Ahmadi mosque demolished by an angry mob, in the eastern city of Sialkot. VOA

While rebuking Tuesday’s U.S. pronouncement as “unilateral and politically motivated,” the Pakistani Foreign Ministry noted Pakistan is “a multi-religious and pluralistic society” of more than 200 million people, mostly Muslims.

“Around four percent of our total population comprises citizens belonging to Christian, Hindu, Buddhists and Sikh faiths. Ensuring equal treatment of minorities and their enjoyment of human rights without any discrimination is the cardinal principle of the Constitution of Pakistan,” it said.

Ahmadis most persecuted community

The statement did not mention the Ahmadi sect, which critics say is the most persecuted minority in Pakistan. The constitution bars the community from “posing as Muslims” and from calling their worship places “mosques.”

U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback while defending downgrading of Pakistan reiterated Tuesday the challenges facing the Ahmadi community.

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Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, speaks to reporters at the State Department in Washington. VOA

“The Pakistani government criminalizes the identification of Ahmadis as Muslims, and then also — and this one has really been difficult and troubling for a lot of people — the government often fails to hold accountable perpetrators of killings and violence against members of religious minorities targeted on account of their religious beliefs or affiliations,” said Brownback.

Blasphemy laws

He cited, among other things, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws as a cause for the downgrade of the country’s religious freedom ranking. The laws prescribe the death penalty for those found guilty.

Rights groups have long complained Islamist groups misuse the law to intimidate minorities in the country.

Insulting Islam or its prophet is an extremely sensitive issue in Pakistan where mere allegations have led to mob lynchings. A former provincial governor, a federal minister, judges and lawyers are among those assassinated in Pakistan by extremists merely for calling for reform of the blasphemy laws to prevent their misuse or for hearing cases and defending alleged blasphemers.

Asia Bibi

In a historic judgement this past October, Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who had been on death row for eight years after being convicted of insulting the Prophet Mohammad. The women denied the charges from the outset as an outcome of a local feud and the country’s highest court cited lack of evidence in overturning her conviction by a lower court.

Pakistan
Radical Islamists rally to condemn a Supreme Court decision that acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, who spent eight years on death row accused of blasphemy, in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

Bibi and her family have been in hiding since her release. Her lawyer fled Pakistan shortly after the landmark court ruling announced on October 31, saying his life was in danger.

Bibi is awaiting a rehearing of her case by the Supreme Court and is residing in a safe place under government protection, say Pakistani officials.

Pakistan also arrested hundreds of Islamist activists and their leaders last month for staging days of mass violent protests to denounce the court for freeing Bibi.

Also Read: Muslims in Malaysia Rally In Kuala Lumpur To Keep Status

The government has charged the detainees with treason and terrorism and officials have vowed to put them on trial in special courts.

“It’s our hope that they will, the new leadership in Pakistan, will work to improve the situation. There was some encouraging signs seen recently on how they’ve handled some of the recent protesting against the blasphemy laws, and we continue to watch very carefully what’s happening to Asia Bibi,” said Brownback.

China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are also included in the U.S. list of countries accused of committing severe violations of religious freedom. (VOA)