By BosNewsLife Africa Service
MOGADISHU, SOMALIA (BosNewsLife)– Somali Christians were confronted with more violence Thursday, December 11, amid fresh reports that Ethiopian troops poured into neighboring Somalia to fight Muslim militants, who have killed and abducted Christians as part of their efforts to take over much of the country.
The Ethiopians’ advance came just weeks before they were to withdraw after a two-year presence here, aimed at protecting the Western-backed government. Observers warned their planned withdrawal at the end of the month would likely herald the administration’s collapse. That was expected to further increase anti-Christian violence and an increase in the number of refugees, including Christians,. fleeing to neighboring Kenya.
However even in refugee camps Christians have been attacked by Muslim militants, encouraged by the al-Shabab group, which declared an Islamic state in a region of southern Somalia over the weekend, establishing posts including a governor, security official and chief judge, according to the US-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist sites.
One of the refugees, Salat Sekondo Mberwa of Mogadishu, was reportedly shot in the shoulder in Dadaab refugee camp and left for dead by Muslim youth following his release from a camp police cell.
He had been detained in October on charges of “dishonoring Islam and its prophet, Muhammad” because of his conversion to Christianity and defending his family against what Christians described as “Islamic zealots.” On October 13 Mberwa and his sun managed to fight off 5 Muslim militants who threatened to kill him for being an “enemy of Islam,” reported Christian news agency Compass Direct News.
He was jailed following the fight, but eventually relased after Christians had raised some 20,000 Kenya shilling fine (US$266) that camp authorities reportedly demanded for his release. Soon after, on November 26, militants returned and shot him. Relatives immediately gave first aid to the bleeding Mberwa and arranged treatment for him in Mogadishu, after which he was relocated to Dadaab for recovery.
Militants have also abducted Christians, including at least two nuns, identified as Maria Teresa Olivero and Caterina Giraudo, who disappeared from Kenya on November 9. The United Nations envoy to Somalia has called for hostages, including the nuns, to be released, BosNewsLife monitored.
“On the eve of Eid al-Adha, a period of forgiveness, I appeal to all Somalis to help ensure that those hostages being held, both Somalis and foreigners, are allowed to enjoy their freedom and to return home safe and sound,” said Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative. He said releasing hostages would help boost Somalia’s image and “show that its people deserve respect and confidence.”
Many of those being held captive came to help the Somali people or explain their plight to the rest of the world, Ould-Abdallah said, adding that their disappearance has caused their families and friends great distress and has harmed the country’s reputation. The two nuns being held were abducted last from a town on the border between Kenya and Somalia. “They should be allowed to return home immediately and I do not see any excuse for holding them any longer,” he stressed.
Christian aid groups including Barnabas Fund, which supports Christians in especially Islamic nations and territories, has suggested that the incidents are part of a wider trend in Somalia and border regions, where militants fight Christianity and try to impose sharia, or Islamic, law.
In one of several deadly incidents earlier this year, Christian teachers were killed. Daud Assan Ali and Rehana Ahmed, both Somali converts from Islam who had previously lived in Britain, were shot dead alongside two Kenyans when Islamic militants stormed the school where they were sleeping in, in Beledweyne in south-central Somalia.
Ali returned to his hometown in Somalia in 2004 to fulfil his lifelong dream of founding his own school, the Private English School, which was completed in March, Barnabas Fund said. On March 30, Ali wrote in his last posting on his blog for the school’s supporters that he was concerned over night time raids by Islamic militants, according to Barnabas Fund.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the killings although a spokesman for the group reportedly said its fighters “did not intentionally kill” the teachers. Barnabas Fund quoted several residents of Beledweyne as saying that the militants deliberately targeted the teachers because of their Christian faith “and out of a fear that they were teaching pupils about their Christian faith.”
The Shabab declared an Islamic state in a region of southern Somalia on Sunday, establishing posts including a governor, security official and chief judge, according to the US-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist sites.
The declaration was seen as the latest sign of the Shabab’s steady advance. The group has taken over much of the war-torn country, witnesses said, and militants are even roaming the streets of the capital Mogadishu, adding to fears within the tiny Christian community of the country. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).