Pakistani Christians have expressed dismay at a decision by the authorities to quietly release a woman who was planning to carry out a suicide bomb attack in a church in the city of Lahore over the Easter weekend.
Pakistan’s army chief spokesman, Major-General Asif Ghafoor, said that Noreen Leghari, 19, a second-year medical student in the southern city of Hyderabad, would be released after undergoing a rehabilitation programme, UCA News reported.
The release of Leghari, who was arrested on 15 April, Easter Saturday was made public when a Pakistani news channel 92 News, broadcast an interview with her on 8 May [Monday].
In it she said: “When I was told that I was to be used as a suicide bomber, I objected and told them I was only interested in migration [to Syria]. But I was told … You must do it. Just chant ‘Allah o Akbar’ (God is Great) and explode your suicide vest.”
“When the army raided our house, I was rescued,” Leghari told her interviewer. She had run away to Lahore hoping to join Islamic State in Syria.
Earlier the Pakistan military released a video confession of Leghari in which she said she had travelled to Lahore of her own free will.
Church officials condemned her release and said it would further endanger Christians. Lutheran Bishop Jimmy Mathew, of Mardan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, said that “releasing a suspect may put [Christians] at risk again”.
Hyacinth Peter, executive secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Major Religious Superiors Leadership Conference in Multan Diocese, told ucanews.com the decision not to prosecute her for terrorism set “a dangerous precedent for national security,” adding that “people accused of attacking the minority community go scot-free”.
Leghari’s release was also denounced online. “Pakistan, where an ISIS suicide bomber Noreen Leghari can be forgiven for planning an Easter attack but Asia Bibi [a Catholic woman on death row for blasphemy] can’t be forgiven!” Pakistani journalist Naila Inayat tweeted.
— Naila Inayat (@nailainayat) May 9, 2017
Last year on Easter Day a suicide bomb at a park in Lahore killed 75 and injured 340 and a Taliban-linked group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying “it had targeted Christians celebrating Easter.” The previous year at least 15 people were killed and 70 injured when suicide bombers targeted two churches in the Youhanabad area of the city.