Pakistani province draws up plan to issue weapon licenses to churches

(Reuters/Naseer Ahmed)A policeman takes position after gunmen attacked the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta, Pakistan December 17, 2017.

A provincial government in southwest Pakistan has announced its plan to issue weapon licenses to churches in response to the terror attack that killed nine people in December.

According to UCA News, the Balochistan government has donated millions of rupees to a Methodist church to support the victims' families and has notified all 41 churches in the provincial capital of Quetta to nominate security volunteers for special training under the Civil Defense Directorate.

The announcement came after the officials, the police and the Implementation Minority Rights Forum (IMRF) held a meeting in Quetta last week.

"The Balochistan Home Department will issue weapon licenses in the name of the churches," IMRF Chairman Samuel Pyara told UCA News.

"This will further enable a special force of volunteers to assist local police when services are held. We will form a committee to monitor these developments and settle the problems of those affected," he added.

The Home and Tribal Affairs Department of the provincial government reportedly handed out 26.5 million rupees (US$239,000) to the Bethel Memorial Methodist Church of Quetta to compensate the victims of the attack at the church on Dec. 17.

The Federal Ministry for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony had also vowed to allocate 5 million rupees (US$45,400) to assist with the repairs to the church building.

Witnesses said that around 400 worshippers were inside the church when four suicide bombers stormed the church.

Pastor Saimon Bashir Masih, the senior leader of the church, said that the police assigned to the church's security reacted quickly, preventing a larger tragedy. One suicide bomber was shot dead after a shootout with the police, while another detonated his suicide vest before he was able to enter the main prayer hall.

Security had been stepped up at the church after it was targeted in a previous attack a few years ago.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the latest attack through its Amaq news agency but did not provide any evidence for the claim.

Officials said that 30 people are still receiving treatment for injuries they sustained in the suicide bombing.

Bashir went to Karachi this week to visit a 16-year-old girl who was scheduled to undergo eye and jaw surgery.

"We are literally running after patients in different hospitals. People, not buildings, are our priority at present. [The victims] are not satisfied with the treatment at government hospitals," the pastor said.

"At least four patients sustained injuries to their groins and require urgent surgery. One 30-year-old woman suffered amnesia due to a traumatic head injury," he added.

The pastor warned that there are fraudulent people exploiting the tragedy, noting that he had been contacted by an embassy in Islamabad about a lawmaker who is collecting funds in the name of the church, although he had not recommended nor authorized anyone to do so.

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