By BosNewsLife Center with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
BAGHDAD/CAIRO/BEIJING (BosNewsLife)– Rights investigators said Wednesday, January 13, there has been “a surge ofattacks” against Christians since December, with deaths, detentions and destruction reported in the Arab world, Africa and Asia.
Religious tension was “particularly high this season” because the main Shia Muslim festival of Ashura, which moves with the Islamic calendar each year, “almost coincided with Christmas, falling around 27 December,” BarnabasFund said in a report obtained by BosNewsLife.
Barnabas Fund, which supports Christians in especially Muslim-majority nations, said the bloodiest attacksoccurred in Iraq, where several Christians were killed in church bombings since last month, and Egypt where seven Christians reportedly died in attacks since January 6.
Iraqi Christians are still coping with the aftermath or two car bombs that detonated near churches in the northern city of Mosul on December 16, “causing extensive damage, wounding nearby schoolchildren and killing at least three” Christians, Barnabas Fund reported. “Words cannot describe what has happened … but we will prayin the streets, in homes, in shops. God is everywhere, not just in churches,” Christians reportedly said.
Later on Christmas Day, December 25, armed Shabaks, a Kurdish minority group, allegedly attacked the Christian-majority town of Bartilla, near Mosul, taking over a check-point for more than five hours and tearing down Christmas decorations in shops. “They also tried to enter a church in the middle of the market to performan Islamic self-flagellation ritual inside the building. The church was successfully defended by its security guards,but four Christians including a policeman received gunshot wounds,” Barnabas Fund said.
EGYPT CHRISTIANS KILLED
Elsewhere in the Arab World, in Egypt, six Christian worshipers and a security guard were killed by three gunmenduring a Christmas Eve service in the town of Nag Hamadi on January 6. “This attack followed threats to the bishop who was leading the service, apparently because of his protests about the large-scale anti-Christian violence inthe neighboring town of Farshoot in November,” Barnabas Fund recalled.
The violence was reportedly triggered by areport that a Christian man had sexually abused a Muslim girl.Further anti-Christian violence broke out in the town of Bahgoura, Friday, January 8, outside Nag Hamadi, where a Muslim mob “armed with swords and gas cylinders” looted and torched Christian-owned homes, shops and cars. One woman diedafter being overcome by fumes when her home was set alight, Barnabas Fund said.
“Residents from the villagealso report that water and electricity were disconnected during the fires, and when the fire brigade arrived, 90 minutesafter being called, the vehicles that came had empty tanks.”Christians are also under pressure in Iran where Christian leader Keyvan Rajabi was detained last week because he had led Christmas and New Year services at his church, following a crackdown on Christian converts last month, Barnabas Fund added. No more details surrounding the January 7 arrest were immediately available.
Earlier in Iran, security forces raided a meeting of 70 Christian converts from Islam who gatheredto celebrate Christmas and New Year; two leaders were reportedly arrested in the December 17 raid, Christians said.
Fresh attacks have also been reported across Asia, including in Malaysia, where up to 10 Churches and Christian buildings were attacked by angry Muslims since Friday, January 8, following a court ruling allowing Christiansto use the word ‘Allah’, in reference to God. No injuries were reported.
In Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, a newly constructed church building in Bekasi Regency, near the capital Jakarta, which was scheduled to be ready by Christmas, was attacked by a mob of motorcyclists onDecember 18, Barnabas Fund and other groups said.
Elsewhere in Asia, in China, Barnabas Fund and other investigators said police detained several elderly Christians in Korla City, Xinjiang province, as they gathered to celebrate Christmas on December 25. “A 71-year-old woman wasthrown roughly against a police car. In another incident, police raided the home of an ailing Christian woman who isconfined to her bed,” Barnabas Fund told BosNewsLife. “They seized Bibles and other Christian literature and publiclyburned them in a bonfire outside her home.”
Chinese officials did not react to the allegations, but Chinese authorities have said they will allow onlyauthorized worship, banning “unauthorized” services at for instance home churches.
In Pakistan, “a massive government security operation protected Christians attending Christmas services”,but in several areas Christmas celebrations were scaled down or canceled on police advice because of security concerns, Barnabas Fund and other reports said. Intimidating text messages had been circulating threatening Christians with “a special gift at Christmas,” which reportedly led to the increased security precautions.
Additionally. Barnabas Fund reported more troubles in Africa where in Zimbabwe a cathedral in the capital Harareand three churches were reportedly raided by police. “Police burst into a communion service in the cathedral,beat up worshipers and forced them out of the building,” on December 25, said Barnabas Fund which is involvedin aid programs in that country.
In northern Algeria the Protestant Tafat church was looted and burned by Muslims over the weekend, church leaders said this week. It followed another attack against the 300-strong church in the city of Tizi-Ouzou last month, BosNewsLife established.”Times of Christian celebration often bring intensified anti-Christian violence, and in the last few weeks we haveseen a surge of attacks in a wide range of countries over the Christmas period, said Barnabas Fund InternationalDirector Patrick Sookhdeo.
Religious tension was “particularly high this season” because the main Shia Muslim festival of Ashura, which moves with the Islamic calendar each year, “almost coincided with Christmas, falling around 27 December,” BarnabasFund said. “The Western New Year on 1 January is also a frequent focus of anti-Christian violence, as it is believedby many in other parts of the world to be a Christian festival.”
He said his group had urged its supporters to pray for protection and “those who seek to bring terror and destruction to Christians at these special times will see the peaceful, loving and forgiving attitude of their victims and that their own hearts will be changed.”