A woman, a child and a baby have died in Pakistan during riots over an allegedly blasphemous Facebook post.
Their home was one of several set on fire in the city of Gujranwala on Sunday and another woman miscarried during the violence.
The woman, her seven-year-old granddaughter and her baby sister died of suffocation, according to police officials.
The victims were members of the Ahmadi religious sect, who identify with Islam but are widely regarded as heretics in Pakistan and face persecution.
Rioting erupted as rumours spread that a young Ahmadi man, identified as Saqib, shared a blasphemous picture on Facebook, Pakistan Today reported.
It allegedly included the Kaaba — the cuboid building at the centre of the Grand Mosque in Mecca that Muslims face in prayer – and contained nudity.
A mob reportedly gathered outside Saqib’s house and started protesting.
When they moved to a doctor’s house where Ahmadis were thought to be hiding, someone inside reportedly shot at the mob and injured the man who had started the Facebook rumour.
The group then set five Ahmadi houses on fire, killing the woman and children and injuring several others.
Pakistani television channels aired footage showing a mob armed with sticks, cheering outside the burning homes.
Differing sources claimed the woman was in her 30s and the girls were aged eight months and five years.
A police officer said another crowd of 150 people gathered at the local police station demanding the registration of a blasphemy case over the post.
The youth accused of making the original Facebook post had not been injured, he said.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws carry a potential death sentence for anyone accused of insulting Islam, although they also cover all religions and places of worship.
Ahmadis consider themselves Muslim but believe in a prophet after Mohammed, the self-proclaimed Ghulam Ahmad, who was born in 1835.
He is not defined as a “law-giving” prophet but claimed to propagate the laws enunciated by Mohammed.
The sect is defined as non-Muslim in Pakistan and a law in 1984 made it illegal for Ahmadis for identify as Muslims or “pose as Muslims”.
They are banned from using Muslim greetings, saying Muslim prayers or referring to their places of worship as a mosque.
Salim ud Din, 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 in Lahore.
“Police were there but just watching the burning. They didn't do anything to stop the mob,” he said. “First they looted their homes and shops and then they burnt the homes.”
In May, two Ahmadis, including a visiting American cardiologist of Pakistani origin, were shot and killed.
In the same month, a lawyer and a human rights activist representing a university professor on trial for blasphemy were shot in the city of Multan.
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 so far this year.
Human rights workers say the allegations are increasingly being used to settle personal vendettas or to seize property from the accused.
Additional reporting by AP and ReutersReuse content