Yoga centre inaugurated by Indian guru burnt down in Islamabad

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Armed men have burnt down a yoga centre in Islamabad inaugurated by a world famous Indian Hindu guru who once offered to teach inner peace to the Taleban, the police said on Sunday.

The Art of Living centre was torched on Saturday night in the upmarket Bani Gala suburb of the capital.

It was the Pakistan branch of a international non-government organisation founded by Nobel peace prize nominee Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, described by Forbes magazine in 2009 as the fifth-most powerful person in India.

Police official Nayyer Salim told AFP some eight to nine people were involved in the attack. "The watchman told us that some eight to nine men armed with pistols and guns came and asked for money. Then they tied up three employees on duty and spread petrol," he said. The staff members survived the attack, the police said.

Mr Shahnaz Minallah, the Pakistan co-chair of Art of Living who was in Lahore at the time of the arson confirmed the incident, but declined to comment further until she reached the site.

Police said the motive behind the incident was not yet clear but they were investigating whether it was related to the centre's connection with India.

Mr Shankar last visited Pakistan in 2012, telling AFP in an interview: "I would love to stretch my hands to Talibans because I would like them to see from a broader perspective of the universe."

His centres, which have branches all over the world and count some 300 million followers, teach breathing practices designed to relieve stress and jealousies.

Its adherents in Pakistan were mainly drawn from the country's urbane, educated elite.

But the branch, built in 2004, has attracted some criticism by some in the media who see yoga as un-Islamic.

Pakistani TV host Arshad Sharif hosted a show in February where he asked panelists whether the centre was "compromising national security" and "challenging our values and lifestyle".

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