Pakistani authorities have arrested 150 people as they investigate Wednesday's attacks on churches in the Jaranwala area of the Faisalabad district of Punjab.
“Two Christians were initially accused of blasphemy and later the mobs stormed churches and Christian homes,” Rizwan Ahmed, senior superintendent of police for Pakistan's Faisalabad district, told The National.
He said that 19 churches were vandalised in the violence.
Mr Ahmed said police had arrested the two Christians accused of a blasphemous act, while another 150 people were arrested during the mob violence.
“Investigations are under way, and we will determine whether a foreign hand is also involved in it or not but all the arrestees are being probed,” he said.
Sub-inspector Naveed Ahmed, who was posted in Jaranwala, said police rushed to the churches and began helping families as soon as they learnt of the incident.
He said that the churches could not be saved.
“Four separate first information reports have been registered, dealing with arson attack, insulting religion, insulting holy books and other sections,” he added.
He said the violence started when some people in the area found pages of a Quran lying on the ground and that some letters containing blasphemous content were also thrown into streets.
Kamran Michael, a Christian senator, told The National: “We have demanded the chief minister and IGP Punjab to arrest the culprits as they disrespected worship places and holy books and punished the entire community for the mistake committed by just two Christians.
“The two Christians, who had been accused of disrespecting the holy Quran, have also been arrested and they are also being investigated. But those who took the law into their own hands and torched churches must also be taken to task.”
Mr Michael said on Sunday that he along with other officials and members of the clergy would visit churches in Jaranwala to attend a prayer service during which compensation for the affected families would be announced.
He said the main aim is to help the people who lost their valuables and property as a result of the mob attacks.
“We condemn the disrespect of both Quran and Bible,” he said.
The senator said Christians including children and the elderly fled into fields to take shelter when their homes and churches were attacked.
Safdar Masih, a resident of Nasirath Colony in Jaranwala, said: “Locals first tried to hold negotiations with a group of enraged men who came to our Christians complaining that the Quran verses and blasphemous letters have been thrown in streets.
“Our community started negotiating with them, but in the meanwhile, another group of people came there starting vandalising churches and homes.”
He said that he and his family took shelter in the fields and that other groups who came to storm churches were not from their area.
Mr Masih said people from the Muslim community living nearby helped to rescue families.
Mufti Shahabuddin Popalzai, an Islamic scholar who heads the Ramadan Moon-sighting committee in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told The National that Islam does not permit its followers to attack minorities over acts committed by some of their members.
“But one problem is that whenever someone commits blasphemy, he or she is not punished as per the law, which is why people then take the law into their own hands. I suggest that such people should be punished as per the law by the courts,” he added.
He said anyone committing such acts should be handed over to the police.
On Saturday the UAE's Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the attacks on churches and homes in Pakistan.
In a statement reported by Wam, the Ministry commended the efforts and diligence of the Pakistani government and the measures it implemented in confronting the criminal acts.
''The Ministry affirmed the UAE's permanent rejection of all practices aimed at undermining security and stability in contravention of human and moral values and principles, stressing that hate speech and extremism contradict international efforts to spread the values of tolerance, coexistence and peace among peoples," Wam said.
''Furthermore, the Ministry stressed the need to respect religious symbols and avoid incitement and polarisation at a time when the international community needs to work together to reaffirm a commitment to upholding the universal principles of tolerance and peaceful coexistence, which should be promoted and implemented to achieve stability and sustainable development.''