By: Amir Mir
ISLAMABAD: The December 3 assassination attempt against Bargeeta Almby, a 72-year-old female Christian charity worker from Sweden, was in all probability, made by the al-Qaeda-linked Punjabi Taliban for siding with two Christian priests who had been accused of committing blasphemy, preliminary police investigations have indicated.
Bargeeta Almby, the Managing Director of the Full Gospel Assemblies (FGA), a church fellowship founded in the United States with congregations worldwide, was returning home from her Kot Lakhpat office when two unidentified motorcyclists shot her in the Model Town area of Lahore where she has been living since long.
The Swedish charity worker, who is in critical condition at the Jinnah hospital, has been living in Pakistan for the past 38 years. Besides working to protect the Christians minority and promote the Christian values, Bargeeta was also running theFGA Church in the Bahar Colony area of Kot Lakhpat, a technical training institute, an adult literacy centre and an orphanage in the provincial metropolis of Punjab.
Earlier, Warren Weinstein, a 71-year old Jewish American US Aid official, was abducted from his Model Town home in Lahore on August 13, 2011 by armed men. Almost 15 months later (on October 28, 2012) al-Qaeda leader Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri had claimed responsibility for the abduction, saying that the detained American Jew would be freed if the United States stopped drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia and freed al-Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
According to preliminary investigations carried out by the Lahore police into the attack on Bargeeta, some Christian religious leaders associated with Full Gospel Assemblies Church Pakistan, which is the oldest church from all Pentecostal churches movements in Pakistan, had been receiving life threats from some religious fanatics.
The threats had forced a bishop and a priest working at FGA to go into hiding after being accused of having committed blasphemy. While Bishop Pervaiz Joseph is the leader of the Pastors Care Ministries and priest of the Gospel Church in Lahore, Pastor Baber George works with the Full Gospel Assemblies Church. Both the Christian leaders were accused of committing blasphemy after raising the issue of the misuse of the blasphemy law in a meeting with some religious leaders.
The religious leaders had accused Bishop Joseph and Priest George of passing insulting remarks against the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be upon Him) during the meeting. However, both the Christian leaders had refuted the allegation, saying that the meeting was held as part of their [Bishop Joseph and Pastor George’s] interfaith work to build peace and harmony between Christians and Muslims and they could not even think of committing blasphemy in such a sensitive meeting. But in view of the growing threats coming from the religious quarters, Joseph and George had to leave their jobs as well as their homes and were temporarily moved to a safer place along with their families.
Those investigating the assassination attempt on Bargeeta say she had been backing the Bishop and the priest, being the managing director of the Full Gospel Assemblies. They say the attack on the Swedish lady was in fact a retaliatory act on part of the religious fanatics and the investigations have shown the involvement of Punjabi Taliban which had been involved in targeting several other minority members in Pakistan, especially Shias and Ahmedis.
The day Bargeeta was targeted in Model Town, another significant incident took place in the Q Block area of Model Town where over a dozen masked men carrying arms and digging tools, vandalized the tombstones of 100-plus graves at an Ahmdedi cemetery.
It may be recalled that a fidayeen attack targeting two Ahmedi places of worship in the Model Town and Garhi Shahu areas of Lahore during Friday prayers, had left 95 people dead on May 28, 2010.
Claiming responsibility, the Punjabi Taliban had vowed to intensify attacks against the Ahmedis across Pakistan. Mansoor Maawia, a spokesperson for the Punjabi Taliban had said after the twin mosque attacks, “No Ahmedi would live with peace in Pakistan. Our war against them will continue till their complete elimination because they are as worst infidels as Jews are.”
During subsequent investigations, a senior doctor of the Jinnah Hospital in Lahore, who was also the president of the Jamaatul Daawa’s medical wing – Muslim Medical Mission (MMM) – had confessed to facilitating four suicide attacks in Lahore, including the May 28 attacks on the places of worship of the Ahmedis in Lahore. Dr Ali Abdullah Chaudhry, who was arrested on July 9, 20102, had also confessed having facilitated the terrorists who had attacked the Jinnah Hospital in Lahore to free a comrade who was injured in the May 28 attack on the Ahmedi-run mosques Model Town.
Dr Ali told his interrogators that while pursuing his medical degree at Allama Iqbal Medical College, he had received armed training in Azad Kashmir at a Lashkar-e-Taiba training camp which was being run by the JuD. He further said his inspiration actually came in the form of lectures delivered by Professor Zafar Iqbal Chaudhry, a close aide of JuD and the vice chancellor of the Markaz-e-Toiba University located at the Muridke headquarters of the LeT/JuD combine.
Between the years 2005 and 2010, Dr Abdullah was the nazim of the Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT), the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan. Sometime during this period he was given training at the JuD’s armed wing, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, in Azad Kashmir. His was tasked to prepare youngsters from various universities and colleges of Lahore, particularly from medical institutions, to support the cause of the militants.
The revelations made by Dr Ali suggested for the first time that the Lashkar-e-Taiba has also become a part of the Punjabi Taliban, which is a loose network of the members of several banned militant organisations based in the urban areas of Punjab who had been a part of the so-called jihad in Jammu & Kashmir.
The key components of the Punjabi Taliban include at least eight al-Qaeda-linked Sunni-sectarian jihadi groups including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) led by Mattiur Rehman, its parent Sunni-Deobandi organisation Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) led by Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) led by Maulana Masood Azhar, Jamaatul Furqan (JUF), the splinter group of Jaish, led by Maulana Abdul Jabbar, Harkatul Mujahideen (HUM) led by Maulana Fazalur Rehman Khalil, the Azad Kashmir and Pakistan chapters of Harkatul Jehadul Islami (HUJI), led by Ilyas Kashmiri and Qari Saifullah Akhtar respectively and last but not the least, the ISI-backed Lashkar-e-Taiba.