Sectarian Violence Hits Pakistani Town

August 12, 2009

Author: Aleem Maqbool

Source: BBC News

On a street in the small Punjabi town of Gojra, house after house stands gutted and looted.

One home in particular is the focus of attention. The windows and doors are gone, what is left of the furniture lies gnarled inside, and some of the ceilings have collapsed. People are peering into a small bedroom at the back of the building.

It is from here that the charred bodies of six members of the Hameed family, from Pakistan's minority Christian community, were recovered. The youngest of the dead was four-year-old Mousa.

We found his father, Almass Hameed, 49, in a crowded hospital ward nearby.

'Shocked and crying'

"He was such a bright boy. His teachers complained that he was cheeky at times, but nobody could doubt how clever he was. But now he's gone," Mr Hameed said, breaking down.

He described how an angry Muslim mob came through the area, known here as the Christian Colony.

"I think there were thousands," he said. "My elderly father went out to see what was happening and they shot and killed him. We were all shocked and crying. Before we knew it, they were breaking into the house."

Mr Hameed explained how he and nine other members of the family hid in the bedroom as the house was over-run.

"We could hear them smashing everything and dividing our belongings amongst themselves," he said. "Then they started beating on the door saying they would teach us a lesson and burn us alive."

Soon after, a fire was raging through his house.

"We just couldn't breathe," he said. "I grabbed my eldest son and managed to get out of the room through the flames, my brother came out with one of my daughters, but the rest were stuck and we had no way of rescuing them."

As well as his father and Mousa, Mr Hameed lost his 11 year-old daughter, his wife, a brother, a sister-in-law and her mother.

"It was like the most horrific movie. They destroyed our lives."

'Fired shots'

Tensions had risen after allegations that Christians in the nearby village of Korrian had torn up and burnt pages of the Koran at a wedding a few days earlier.