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Missionary warns US attack could spark civil war

A Salesian missionary working in Pakistan warned last week that an American attack in the region could trigger a civil war.

Fr Pietro Zago, 42, who works in Quetta, West Pakistan, recently returned to Italy for a short visit.

He said: "The majority of Pakistanis are good people, open to dialogue, but the real problem is ignorance. In a nation with 70% illiteracy, the population is strongly influenced by the Mullah, the Islamic religious leaders."

He said Bin Laden was celebrated as a hero, while most people, who lived without radio or television, were still not even aware of the attacks against the World Trade Centre and Pentagon.

Muslims were afraid to be seen with westerners, he said. Many Christian missionaries had left the country and those remaining were lying low.

Fr Pietro works near the Afghani border. More than 350,000 Afghan refugees have recently arrived in the town and are living in very bad conditions.

Fr Pietro said he felt much depended on the evidence presented by the US to demonstrate the guilt of Bin Laden. While the Pakistani government appeared to be accepting America's word, Fr Pietro said ordinary people needed more convincing. "The situation on the ground is very alarming," he said.