Tributes have been paid to a Christian minister who was killed yesterday (Sunday, 30th January) in Pakistan after dedicating his life to persecuted and other suffering Christians.
Gunmen on motorbikes shot William Silraj in the head and chest as he was driving away from Sunday service at a church, outside Peshawar city centre.
Also in the car was the Reverend Patrick Naeem, pastor-in-charge of the (Protestant) Church of Pakistan parish, who was rushed to hospital with gun wounds but was today (Monday) described as stable.
News channels showed emergency services taking Mr Silraj out of the car and people chanting “Long live Jesus Christ”, as they carried him to his home.
Martyrs of All Saints’ Church, in Chamkani, was set up after the September 2013 twin suicide blast at the city’s All Saints’ Church, in which more than 120 people were killed and more than 250 injured.
Mr Silraj, a retired teacher with two grown-up daughters, lost his son-in-law in the All Saints’ Church attack and afterwards committed his ministry to reaching out to survivors and their families.
Qamar Rafiq, a UK-based Christian originally from Pakistan and a close friend of Mr Silraj’s family, spoke to many parishioners at Shodha Church and said people were “shocked”.
He added: “All of those supported by William Silraj are very sad at the loss of a very great and passionate man who was willing to reach out to Christians who had been through such a difficult time after what happened at All Saints’ Church.
“After what happened [at All Saints’], he would be knocking on the doors of victims’ families, praying with them and reassuring them of his support.
“He was always willing to reach out to communities in the narrowest of streets, no matter how dangerous the area.”
Following yesterday’s attack, a police investigation has got underway after the submission of an FIR (First Information Report).
As yet, nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack but speculation is mounting that the extremist group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) may be behind the violence.
Church of Pakistan Bishop Azad Marshall tweeted: “We demand justice and protection of Christians from the Government of Pakistan.”
Police officer Abbas Ahsan was quoted as saying: “It was a terrorist act… We are determined to protect minorities.”
Mr Silraj’s funeral was due to be held today (Monday).