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Gunmen kill 16 Christians in raid on Pakistan Catholic Church

Masked gunmen shot dead up to 16 Christians at Sunday prayers in an unprecedented attack in the central Pakistani town of Bahawalpur, witnesses said.

Christians have expressed fears they could become targets if unrest broke out in Muslim Pakistan over opposition to the US attacks on neighboring Afghanistan's ruling Muslim Taliban militia.

Six men on three motorcycles rode up to St Dominic's Church and pulled out AK47 assault rifles from bags, one witness said.

"They were carrying the bags and when they came they took out guns," the witness said.

They shot two police guards before entering the packed church firing indiscriminately.

Police have been posted at Christian churches since 11 September attacks on the United States blamed on Saudi-born Osama bin Laden who is believed to be in Afghanistan.

Christians are about one per cent of Pakistan's 120 million population.

"Women were among the dead," said a police deputy superintendant. Dozens of worshippers were wounded, some seriously, he added.

It was the first such attack on Christians in the region, he said. The area, south of Multan near the Indian border has a history of strife between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslim extremists.

Four gunmen entered the church while two waited outside to shoot those who managed to flee, he said.

St Dominic's is a Catholic church but a Protestant service was being held at the time of the attack.