Delhi church gutted in mysterious fire, probe on

A substantial part of a Catholic church in northeast Delhi's Tahirpur area was gutted when a fire broke out at its premises on Monday morning with the Christian community suspecting foul play in the incident

New Delhi: A Catholic church in Delhi was gutted under mysterious circumstances Monday, police said.

The caretakers of the church have alleged the involvement of some unidentified men in the fire. Police have not ruled out any possibility and have begun a probe.

The blaze was noticed around 7.15 a.m. at the Saint Sebastian's Church in east Delhi's Dilshad Garden area by a chowkidar (guard) who informed the Delhi Fire Service and the caretakers.

"We all rushed to the spot and found flames coming out of the prayer hall on the ground floor and the balcony on the first floor," Father Stanley told IANS.

Four fire tenders were pressed into service and the blaze was controlled within three hours.

"Almost everything was gutted. Nothing is left inside the building. The place where the Bible and other prayer things are kept has been completely destroyed," said Father Stanley, who lives in Gol Dak Khana area in central Delhi.

The church was established in an area having a mixed population of Hindus and Christians.

Another caretaker told IANS that about 5,000 Christians stay in localities around the church established in 2001.

"The windows were broken and some inflammable substance has also been detected by police," he said.

"It appears that the fire was started intentionally. It might be the handiwork of some miscreants," he added.

Deputy Commissioner of Police R.A. Sanjeev told IANS: "A case has been registered and probe is on. We are also looking at the angle of a possible short circuit."

A protest has been planned by Christian groups Tuesday morning in front of the police headquarters at ITO.

Over 150 people offer prayers at the church daily in the evening, while the church witnesses around 500-600 people on Saturdays and Sundays.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal visited the church and demanded that Delhi Police conduct "a serious, thorough, time-bound and impartial probe" to ascertain the reasons behind the mysterious fire.

"The Aam Aadmi Party is shocked at the way police has handled the case so far. When former chief minister Arvind Kejriwal asked police about the progress in its investigation after he saw the condition of the church, the Delhi Police top brass appeared unaware about the gravity of the incident," said an AAP statement.

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