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Worshippers Dead in Pakistan Attack

Posted: Monday, March 18, 2002 at 06:04 AM CT


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A grenade attack on a Protestant church packed with Sunday worshippers killed five people including an American woman and her daughter in an assault clearly aimed at Pakistan's foreign community.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, in which at least one young man in black some witnesses said two ran through the center of the church hurling grenades. But suspicion fell on Islamic extremists.

Ten Americans were among the 45 people injured, most of whom were foreigners, police and hospitals said. One body remained unidentified late Sunday, and officials said it may be the assailant.

President Bush condemned the attack on the Protestant International Church and called it an act of terrorism. He pledged to find those responsible and bring them to justice.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the assault was aimed at undermining Pakistan's pro-U.S. president at a time when he is trying to quell Islamic fundamentalism following the Taliban's fall in neighboring Afghanistan.

The attack occurred at 10:50 a.m. during a sermon before 60 to 70 worshippers. Dozens of police and soldiers rushed to the scene.

The church, about 400 yards from the U.S. Embassy, is located in the guarded diplomatic quarter in the heart of Pakistan's capital and primarily serves the foreign community. The overwhelming majority of Pakistanis are Muslim and few Pakistani Christians live in Islamabad.

Survivors spoke of deafening blasts, choking smoke and pandemonium. They said terrified parents screamed for their children and stunned worshippers dived beneath chairs and behind cement pillars as bits of flesh were hurled through the air.

Parishioners sobbed and called out "Brother! Brother!" as they tried to find friends and family amid the chaos.

Parents groped to find their way downstairs, where their children were attending Sunday School. Other parishioners feared touching the wounded, because unexploded grenades lay near their bodies.

Witnesses gave conflicting reports on the number of attackers. Late Sunday, senior police superintendent Nasir Khan Durrani said authorities believed only one attacker was involved.

Durrani said the assailant may have died in the attack.

"There was blood, blood, blood, intestines lying on the floor," said Elisabeth Mundhenk, 54, of Hamburg, Germany as she awaited treatment for shrapnel wounds at a hospital. "It was horrific. There was a horrible smell and we could barely breathe."

Mark Robinson of San Clemente, Calif., who was being treated at a clinic for a minor leg injury, described "total pandemonium."

"Everyone panicked," Robinson said. "I saw one woman on the steps with a piece of shrapnel in her carotid artery. She bled to death right there."

The U.S. Embassy identified the dead Americans as Barbara Green and her daughter Kristen Wormsley, a senior at the American School in Islamabad.

Green and her husband, Milton Green, worked at the U.S. Embassy she in administration and he in the computer division. Milton Green and the couple's young son were also injured but not seriously, according to police.

The other dead included one Afghan, one Pakistani and the one unidentified, Pakistani officials said.

In addition to the Americans, 12 Pakistanis, five Iranians, one Iraqi, one Ethiopian and one German were injured, police said. The government said the injured also included Sri Lankans, Afghans, Swiss, Britons, Australians and Canadians.

Six or seven were in serious condition, District Judge Tariq Mehmood Khan said.

British aid worker Nic Parham, 36, told Britain's Press Association news agency that an attacker ran through the center of the church, hurling explosives.

"He had a belt on with what looked as though it could have been homemade grenades," Parham said. "I seem to remember about four or five explosions."

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf condemned the attack as a "ghastly act of terrorism" and pledged to find those responsible. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Musharraf abandoned support for the Afghan Taliban and threw his support to the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

On Jan. 12, Musharraf announced a major crackdown on Islamic fundamentalists who had been supported for years by Pakistani governments and banned five extremist movements. More than 2,000 people were arrested, although many have since been released.

It had been long expected that religious extremists would strike back with dramatic attacks against foreigners, Western interests or government facilities in Pakistan.

The kidnap-slaying of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl was seen as part of an extremist campaign to embarrass the government and undercut its support in the West. Four people, including British-born militant Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, have been arrested in the case.

"This is part of a continuing effort by dissident extremist terrorists to try to destabilize President Musharraf's government and the support which he enjoys from around the world, including the Western nations," Straw, the British foreign secretary, told the British Broadcasting Corp.

Pakistan's interior minister, Moinuddin Haider, told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" that the attack may have been "to give a message to the West" by "those people who are against this war against terrorism."

U.S. Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin said the attack would not deter U.S. resolve to fight terrorism nor its support for Musharraf.

"These terrorists will not win in the United States, they will not win in Pakistan and we will not let them win anywhere," Chamberlin said after visiting the injured.

The attack was the second against Christians in Pakistan since the war on terrorism began. On Oct. 28, gunmen killed 15 Christians and one Muslim guard in an attack on a church in the town of Behawalpur.

It was the first major terrorist strike in Islamabad since Sept. 11. In January, small bombs were found on British and French diplomatic cars but there were no injuries.



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