Three female members of the same Ahmadi Muslim family – including a seven-year-old and her baby sister – were killed late Sunday in eastern Pakistan after an angry mob rampaged through a village accusing the family of posting “blasphemous” material on Facebook.
Four other people were serious hurt as the mob burnt down half a dozen houses in the town of Gujranwala, 140 miles southeast of the capital Islamabad.
Police officials said the violence started with an altercation between young men, one of whom was an Ahmadi, accused of posting “objectionable material”.
“Later, a crowd of 150 people came to the police station demanding the registration of a blasphemy case against the accused,” the BBC Urdu Service quoted one police officer as saying.
“As police were negotiating with the crowd, another mob attacked and started burning the houses of Ahmadis.”
The youth accused of making the Facebook post had not been injured, he said.
According to the Associated Press the rioting erupted after claims an Ahmadi had posted a blasphemous photo of the Kaaba – the cube-shaped structure in the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, that observant Muslims around the world face in prayer five times a day.
The photo allegedly contained nudity.
According to reports the victims died of suffocation and that another woman miscarried during the riots and was in hospital.
Under Pakistani law, Ahmadis are banned from using Muslim greetings, saying Muslim prayers or referring to his/her place of worship as a mosque.
Salim Uddin, a spokesman for the Ahmadi community, said it was the worst attack on the community since simultaneous attacks on Ahmadi places of worship killed 86 Ahmadis four years ago.
Mr Uddin claimed that police had stood by as the mob rampaged through the town, a claim denied by police officers.
Accusations of blasphemy are rocketing in Pakistan, from one in 2011 to at least 68 last year, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
About 100 people have been accused of blasphemy this year.
Ahmadi Muslims consider themselves Muslim but believe in a prophet after Mohammed. A 1984 Pakistani law declared them non-Muslims and many Pakistanis consider them heretics.