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Published: Monday, 7/28/2014

3 Pakistanis die as Facebook photo sets off Muslim rampage

NEW YORK TIMES

LAHORE, Pakistan — A woman and two of her young granddaughters were burned to death Sunday night in the eastern city of Gujranwala after a member of their Ahmadi minority sect was accused of posting a blasphemous picture to Facebook, the police said.

The mob of roughly 1,000 people began rampaging through an Ahmadi neighborhood after being alerted to the photo, setting houses on fire and injuring at least eight other people, according to the police.

Ahmadis belong to a reform sect rooted in Islam, but under Pakistani law they are forbidden to identify themselves as Muslim. They come under frequent attack, and have often been targeted under Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws.

The blasphemy accusation was brought against Aqib Saleem, an 18-year-old Ahmadi man who was alleged to have uploaded a picture of the Kaaba, the sacred shrine in Mecca toward which Muslims turn when they pray, with a seminude white woman sitting on top.

Officials said that a Muslim friend of Saleem’s, Saddam Hussein, 18, noticed the Facebook post and alerted others in the neighborhood. Soon, a crowd of about 400, including some Muslim clerics, reached a nearby police station and urged the police to register a blasphemy case. Meanwhile, the larger mob began rampaging around Ahmadi houses in the Arfat neighborhood of Gujranwala, an industrial city in Punjab province.

Ahmadi community leaders accuse the police of looking the other way while the violent mob ransacked property, obstructed a fire brigade truck and threw stones at ambulances on their way to the scene. At least eight houses were set on fire.

As the flames spread, Bushra Bibi, 55, and two of her granddaughters, one just 7, were trapped in their house and died of smoke inhalation, officials said. Another Ahmadi woman, who was seven months’ pregnant, had a miscarriage.

“They are killing innocent people over fabricated issues,” said Salimuddin, a local Ahmadi spokesman. He claimed that the accused teenager’s Facebook password had been stolen, and that someone offensively edited the picture of the holy Muslim site.

Rights activists and Ahmadi community members strongly condemned the latest attacks.

“The people who were killed were not even indirectly accused of blasphemy charges. Their only fault was that they were Ahmadis,” said Zohra Yusuf, chairwoman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. “Torching women and children in their house simply because of their faith represents brutalization and barbarianism stooping to new levels.”



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