LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Birgitta Almby, Bible school teacher and director of a Christian-run technical training institute in Lahore, died last night in her native Sweden from wounds sustained in a Dec. 3 shooting here by suspected Islamic extremists. She was 70.
Shot by two armed men outside her house in Lahore’s upscale Model Town as she returned from her Full Gospel Assemblies (FGA) office in the Kot Lakhpat area, Almby died at about 10 p.m. Pakistan Standard Time at Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, FGA Bible School Principal Liaqat Qaiser told Morning Star News.
Almby, director at the FGA Technical Training Institute and also a teacher at the FGA Bible School, was shot in the chest, and the bullet damaged her left lung. Initially she was taken to Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital, where doctors removed the bullet and said her condition was critical because of excessive bleeding.
She had served the Pakistani Christian community for 38 years.
“Almby will be missed dearly,” Qaiser said. “She spent a long time serving the poor and downtrodden Christians in Pakistan, and every Christian is very sad at her demise. But she is in a much better place now.”
Police have yet to trace the assassins and unearth a motive for her murder, but Qaiser said he believes she was targeted by Islamic extremists.
“Who else would want to murder someone as apolitical and harmless as Almby, who had dedicated her life to serving humanity?” he said. “The police say they are trying hard to find the killers, but at the moment there is nothing substantial. We just hope her killers are brought to justice.”
Model Town Superintendent of Police Investigations Ijaz Shafi Dogar said his department was probing from all angles, but that nothing could be said of the motive for the killing, “as there are no witnesses.”
“We were hoping that Almby would recover from the coma and provide information about the men who targeted her, as she was the only person who had seen her assailants,” Shafi Dogar told Morning Star News. “There are no other witnesses.”
Almby’s FGA colleagues told police there had been no security threat to them or Almby, he added.
He rejected reports that police suspected involvement of the Al Qaeda-linked Punjabi Taliban in the attack on Almby, saying there was nothing to suggest Taliban involvement in the murder.
“The Taliban immediately claim responsibility for such attacks, but there was no word from them regarding the attack on the Swede,” Shafi Dogar said. “Still, we haven’t completely ruled out their involvement in the case.”
The assailants took no money or valuables from Almby’s car after they shot her.
Almby had been transferred to Sweden for treatment in an air ambulance provided by the Swedish government as there was no improvement in her condition.
“She was moved to her home country for specialist treatment, but she could not survive because of her injuries, which proved fatal,” said Qaiser, the Bible school principal. He added that Almby is mourned by a brother and two sisters in Sweden and thousands of Christians in Pakistan, which was a second home to her.
Besides directing the FGA training institute and teaching at the Bible school, Almby also oversaw orphanages run by the U.S.-founded Christian charity.
Dr. Tahira Saleem, founder and chairperson of Shekinah Ministries Pakistan and a close friend of Almby, spoke highly of her commitment to Pakistani Christians.
“Her demise is a big loss for us,” she said. “She was loved by everyone here and will be held in high regard always.”
Saleem said it was unfortunate that police have been unable to find Almby’s killers.
“Such incidents bring a bad name for the country and its people,” she said. “The government should take this investigation more seriously and ensure the perpetrators of this heinous crime are punished.”
In Stockholm, Niclas Lindgren, director of the missionary wing of the Pentecostal church in Sweden, reportedly said it was hard to come to grips with the murder.
“Birgitta worked with social issues like education and health care,” he told Sweden’s The Local. “If she’d worked with political issues, it may have been understandable why she got murdered … There was no indication that there was a threat to her life. It was very unexpected. As it is now, we don’t know what the motive was or why she was killed.”
Lindgren added that it was “too early to say” whether the murder will affect the work Almby oversaw in Pakistan.
A representative from the Pentecostal church in Köping said Almby’s injuries had resulted in serious brain damage, leaving little hope that she would ever fully recover, according to Christian newspaper Dagen.
The Pakistani government expressed regret, saying utmost efforts would be made to find her attackers and bring them to justice.
Swedish Aid Minister Gunilla Carlsson expressed her condolences, saying the incident had touched her deeply.
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