Protestant church leader in Turkey’s fourth largest city, a Christian news agency reported late Friday, January 20.
29-year-old Pastor Kamil Kiroglu was beaten unconscious twice along the street after leaving his church in Adana following Sunday worship services January 8, Compass Direct said.
Wielding a long butcher knife, one of the unidentified attackers allegedly threatened to kill him if he refused "to deny his Christian faith and return to Islam."
The four Turks involved in the attack appeared to be in their late teens but were led by a foreigner probably 10 years older who claimed to be from Turkmenistan, Compass Direct said. At one point, the group’s leader said he was acting on behalf of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, the news agency added.
The information could not be independently verified, but BosNewsLife has learned that evangelical Christians in Turkey have become increasingly worried about threats and attacks.
The five men reportedly showed up at the Adana Protestant Church’s rented facility near the city center 45 minutes before the Sunday service began at 2 pm.
Introducing himself as a Christian from Turkmenistan, the group’s leader allegedly said in Russian that he had "converted" the four Turks with him to Christianity, but that he did not know how to teach them. The others reportedly said they also wanted to know more.” Please teach us about Jesus," they were quoted as saying.
The pastor later agreed to meet them privately, but became suspicious. Explaining that he and the other church leaders all had previous appointments, the group reluctantly started to leave, talking among themselves about a “package” they had left inside. Their leader was quoted as saying: "There is a package for you from Al-Qaeda. It is a surprise. You will soon know what it is."
Shouting to his expatriate friend, who did not understand Turkish, to run, he took out his cell phone to call the police, Compass Direct reported. However the militants apparently returned shouting "We don’t want Christians in this country.”
Ignoring the church leader’s confused foreign friend, the men chased and caught Kiroglu and began to strike him severely with their fists and feet. “I was trying to protect my face,” Kiroglu was quoted as saying, "but soon I was lying on the ground, covered in blood, and they were still kicking and beating me."
After briefly losing consciousness, he managed to get to his feet and start running again, but again the attackers caught up with him. “They were trying to force me to deny Jesus,” Kiroglu told the news agency. "But each time they asked me to deny Jesus and become a Muslim, I was saying, ‘Jesus is Lord.’ The more I said ‘Jesus is Lord,’ the more they beat me."
Kiroglu saw in one man’s hands a long butcher knife, which he later learned had been grabbed from a nearby kebap restaurant. Shoving the knife against Kiroglu’s stomach, the attacker said, “I’m asking you again, deny Jesus, or I will kill you now."
Suddenly, the Christian said, he felt two heavy blows, one on his head and the other on his spine, and everything went dark. When he regained consciousness, his attackers were gone and his friend was trying to wake him up.
Kiroglu then went directly to a nearby police station, where officers took him to the hospital for treatment. Although his assailants never stabbed him, doctors put six stitches into his bleeding mouth, and his head and other parts of his body remained swollen and painful for nearly a week after the beatings. His glasses were also shattered during the attack.
A squad of anti-terrorist police immediately searched the church building after Kiroglu told them about the “package” threat. But instead of a feared bomb, the package turned out to be a huge knife almost three feet long, wrapped up and hidden under a bench.
Kiroglu, who supports himself as a translator and interpreter, became a Christian four and one-half years ago. The Adana Protestant Church, begun in 2001, is one of three Protestant congregations in the city, two of them worshipping in Turkish.
A similar attack 14 months ago targeted a US Christian in Gaziantep’s Protestant congregation. Three teenage assailants tied and gagged their victim in his office, threatening him with a pistol and claiming they had orders from Al-Qaeda to “put him away.”
Turkish security police investigating both incidents have reportedly suggested that local extremist youths could be claiming the Al-Qaeda label in order to intimidate Turks from converting to Christianity. The tiny Protestant community of overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey consists of an estimated 3,500 Turkish Christians who worship in some 95 churches, many of
them in house churches. (With reports from Turkey).