Pakistan holds 12 in attack at church

Associated Press

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistani authorities interrogated 12 Islamic militants Tuesday about a weekend shooting that killed 16 people at a Christian church. "We have reached out for the necks of the culprits," one official said.

Authorities linked the 12 detained men to three Islamic militant groups — all of which have publicly expressed anti-American sentiment since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Superintendent Arif Ikram of Behawalpur, the south-central Pakistani town where the shootings took place, said the 12 were detained during several raids in different areas of Punjab province. He said none had been charged by Tuesday evening.

Ikram would not identify the men. Separately, authorities released composites of three men they say were among the assailants Sunday at St. Dominic’s Roman Catholic Church.

Six gunmen burst into the church during Protestant services of the Church of Pakistan, spraying the congregation with gunfire. Sixteen people were slain — 15 Christians, including the minister, and one Muslim police officer guarding the church. Five wounded worshippers were out of danger Tuesday night, according to Altaf Malik, medical superintendent at the Civil Hospital of Behawalpur.

It was unclear whether the attack was linked to Muslim outrage over U.S.-led airstrikes in neighboring Afghanistan and the Pakistani government’s support of the attacks.

But many of Behawalpur’s Christians suspect a connection, and authorities’ focus on militant groups — along with President Pervez Musharraf’s use of the term "trained terrorists" in condemning the shootings — suggests authorities suspect a link.

The Interior Ministry identified the militant groups linked to the 12 men as Sipah-e-Sahaba, a Sunni Muslim organization with leanings against Shiites, the other main Muslim group; Jaish-e-Mohammad, or Army of Mohammad; and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which is banned in Pakistan and considered more anti-American than the other two.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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