Published January 13, 2015
Hundreds of Muslims attacked and burned two churches in Pakistan on Saturday after reports that a Christian man had desecrated Islam's holy book. No one was injured in the blazes.
A school, student hostel and the home of a priest were also torched by the crowd of about 1,500 Muslims near the town of Sangla Hill, about 80 miles northeast of Lahore, said police official Ali Asghar Dogar.
The attacks were being investigated. About two dozen people had been arrested, Dogar said.
The fires came a day after a local Muslim resident accused a Christian of burning a one-room Islamic school along with copies of the Quran. Dogar said the allegations were apparently leveled by people who lost money while gambling with the Christian man on Friday, but police had detained him and were investigating.
Shahbaz Bhatti, head of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance — which promotes the rights of minorities in mainly Muslim Pakistan, denied the charges and condemned the attacks on the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches.
"No Christian burned copies of the Quran," he told The Associated Press. "No Christian even can think of doing it. We have maximum regard and respect for the Quran and Islam's Prophet Muhammad."
Bhatti accused local Muslim leaders of using mosque public-address systems to urge Muslims to attack the churches.
Non-Muslims comprise just 3 percent of Pakistan's 150 million-plus population. The country's Christian minority generally coexists peacefully with the Muslim majority, but there have been occasional attacks on churches and Christian clergy by Islamic extremists railing against Western influence in Pakistan.
Thousands of Pakistanis joined angry street protests this spring over the alleged desecration of the Quran by interrogators at a U.S. military prison in Guantanamo, Bay, Cuba. Desecration of the holy book carries the death penalty in Pakistan.