LAHORE: An elderly woman, two minors and an unborn child all perished late on Sunday when houses belonging to Ahmadis were set ablaze in Gujranwala by a charged mob after an Ahmadi boy was accused of blasphemy.
It was all too familiar for a community that saw back-to-back attacks on its places of worship just four years ago -- attacks that killed 86 Ahmadis.
On Sunday, a woman and two of her granddaughters died of suffocation while a seven-month-old unborn child also suffered the same fate when the child's mother had a miscarriage. The mother is still in critical condition.
The charged mob started looting and setting the houses on fire at 8pm and continued to do so until 12:30am on Monday in the presence of the police, said Dr Muhammad Akram, head of Gujranwala Jamaat Ahmadia.
He said the mob did not let ambulances of Rescue 1122, fire fighters aid the rescuers and the police remained silent spectators. "However, after the mob had set the houses on fire, the police recovered three bodies and nine injured people from the burnt houses."
Akram told The Express Tribune that among the deceased were Bushra Bibi aged 54, Hira aged 7 and his sister Kainat who was six months old. Both girls were daughters of Muhammad Boota. He went on to add that Mubashra Bibi, Boota’s sister, had a miscarriage.
Akram added that eight others, including a four-year-old baby girl and a three-year-old baby boy were shifted to Tahir Heart Institute, Rabwa, from Gujranwala District Hospital.
"The hospital administration had referred them to a hospital in Lahore as they were in critical condition, but they preferred to have the injured shifted to Rabwa for better care and security," said Akram.
He went on to add that eight houses and four shops were burnt during the incident, adding that the mob had initially looted their houses and their business of building material, and then set them on fire after spraying the houses with petrol.
"The mob would not let any police official or rescuer assist them," he said, adding that a rickshaw, four electric generators and a tractor trolley were also damaged during the incident.
Munir Ahmed, Boota’s brother, tried to escape from the scene but the mob chased him and subjected him to physical torture. However, men from the area managed to rescue Ahmed, who is now under treatment at a local hospital.
"Nobody was going to the house of the dead to shift their bodies into custody as they feared action from the mob. Later, however, after security from the police, they took the bodies into their custody and were shifted them to Rabwa," he added.
There are 300 homes of Ahmadi families, comprising more than 2,000 members in Gujranwala. In 1974, Akram added, seven Ahmadis were killed in a day by an angry mob in Gujranwala.
SP Civil Lines Gujranwala Zeeshan Siddiqi told The Express Tribune that they had registered an FIR at the Peoples Colony under sections 302, 436, 148 and 149 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), and section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, against four nominated as accused and many unknown.
He said among the nominated accused are local cleric Hakim Ali, Khurram, Asif Boby and Asif Butt and said that so far no arrest had been made. He admitted that announcements were made in mosques against Ahmadis, which ensured the gathering of thousands of charged people against Ahmadis.
He said the mob had accused one of the Ahmadis of posting a blasphemous picture of the Kaaba, and that the mob had gathered outside their houses. An individual inside the house had shot at the mob, injuring one of them as a result. This caused panic among the mob which started setting houses on fire.
Jamaat-e-Ahmadi’s spokesperson told The Express Tribune that he had personally been in touch with federal minister Khurram Dastagir, local police officials and the inspector general of police, but no one had listened or bothered.
He said that Ahmadis all over the country were vulnerable to extremist attacks, adding that false cases had been registered against four Ahmadis in Badin, Sindh under 298-C of the PPC.
Further, Saleemudin said that an Ahmadi was accused of blasphemy and arrested a month ago and was shot dead in Sharaqpur while he was in custody of the police. He also said that a cardiac surgeon, who was a US national, was shot dead in when he had arrived to attend to a heart patient in Rabwa.
Munawar Ali Shahid, a member of the Ahmadia community and a human rights activist, who is taking refuge in Germany after receiving life threats, condemned the incident. 'No Ahmadi is safe in Pakistan, and the state had failed to protect the minorities as their houses had been burnt in the presence of the police."
He said such attacks had been made against Ahmadis in Chak Sikander, Nankana Sahib, Ghando Sahi, Sialkot and Shamshabad Kasure – but none of the accused for these incidents were arrested.