Pakistani authorities have detained at least 22 individuals in connection to the lynching of a university student accused of committing an act of blasphemy against Islam.
Law enforcement has also arrested a 19-year-old woman accused of being recruited by the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) to carry out a suicide attack on a Christian church on Easter Sunday.
The arrests come soon after U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration cited Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws in a message warning American citizens against traveling to the Muslim-majority nation.
In Pakistan, blasphemy laws primarily target Christians and other members of religious minority groups.
The Associated Press (AP) reports:
The 16 students and six university employees are believed to have incited or taken part in the mob that killed 23-year-old Mohammad Mashal Khan, provincial police chief Salahuddin Mehsud said. The student was beaten and shot to death at a university in the northwestern city of Mardan on Thursday.
Mehsud said no evidence has been found to indicate Khan committed blasphemy against Islam, which is punishable by death in Pakistan.
Protests involving demonstrators calling for the execution of Christians and other people accused or merely suspected of committing acts of blasphemy are common in Pakistan.
Although Pakistan has reportedly not yet executed anyone for a blasphemy law conviction, various people have been sentenced to death and extremists have been known to take matters into their own hands, sometimes killing the accused.
Pakistan also made the arrests as Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, arrived in Islamabad to discuss ongoing efforts against jihadists in South Asia, stressing that Islamabad has been “selectively” targeting terrorist groups.
The Pentagon has long reported that Pakistan serves as a sanctuary for terrorist groups fighting against U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Jihadists from al-Qaeda, the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), and the Taliban maintain strongholds along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and are known to operate in both countries, moving freely across the international boundary.
AP learned from a Pakistani military spokesman that authorities recently arrested 19-year-old Noreen Leghari. ISIS terrorists recruited her this month to attack a church, revealed Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, adding that law enforcement took her into custody after a shootout on April 14.
Last week, the Trump administration dropped the “mother of all bombs” on a network of caves and tunnels in the ISIS stronghold located in eastern Afghanistan’s opium-rich Nangarhar province on the country’s border with Pakistan.
The U.S. military dropped the Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, or MOAB, on Thursday, killing nearly 100 ISIS jihadists.
Pakistan has long attempted to downplay the presence of ISIS on its soil, points out AP.
“Monday’s announcement marked the first time Pakistani officials have acknowledged that the extremist group based in Syria and Iraq is recruiting within the South Asian country,” it adds.
In January 2015, ISIS officially announced its presence in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, home to the largest concentration of terrorist groups in the world, according to the U.S.-NATO coalition.
The majority of ISIS fighters are believed to be Pakistani Pashtuns, former members of the country’s Taliban branch.
According to the U.S. military, the local ISIS branch has been dramatically degraded, from a peak of 3,000 fighters to about 700 fighters now.