Christians Fear Attacks in Pakistan as Forces Clash with Islamic Extremists

Christian representatives in Pakistan are calling for urgent prayer to prevent a feared backlash against Christians following clashes between security forces and Islamist militants in the capital.

At least seven people have died after a tense standoff erupted into violence at the Lal Masjid mosque in the capital Islamabad. The mosque is linked with two Madrassas (Islamic schools).

Militant students have been calling for strict Islamic law and have been accused of carrying out kidnappings in the area. They are armed with assault rifles, sticks and petrol bombs.

Persecution watchdog Release International has been told by its contacts that thousands of extremists have been drawn to the mosque, including women and children who are calling for a jihad. They warn that if the authorities continue shooting they will start suicide bombing across Pakistan.

Partners of Release International, which serves the persecuted church worldwide, fear that the anger of militants will spill over into attacks against the Christian community. They are calling for prayer.

"Whenever there is any incident against Muslims, Christians are always held liable," says a spokesman for CLAAS, the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement. "The Christians of Pakistan are in serious need of prayer."

Tensions escalated at the mosque after students kidnapped Chinese nationals from an acupuncture clinic, accusing them of working in a brothel. Security forces erected barricades around the mosque before students seized guns from the police, prompting a volley of teargas, which then led to an exchange of gunfire, Release International reports.

According to the news agency AFP, students brandishing Kalashnikov assault rifles stood outside the mosque chanting "Jihad! Jihad!".

The Pakistan authorities are being encouraged by the international community to clamp down on the extremists.

"Pakistan is causing us great concern," said Andy Dipper, the CEO of Release International. "As the country becomes more unstable, attacks against Christians are increasing. Our partners CLAAS fear that Christians in Pakistan will become the lightning rod for the anger and frustration of extremists in the aftermath of the violence at the mosque. Pray for calm. Pray for the Christians of Pakistan."