By BosNewsLife Africa Service
MOGADISHU, SOMALIA (BosNewsLife)– Christians in Somalia faced more difficulties Sunday, January 31, as a militant Islamist group associated with al-Qaida attacked areas controlled by government troops and peacekeepers leaving at least 19 dead and scores injured.
The latest attacks, which began Friday, January 29, came just weeks after the same al-Shabab group shot and killed the 41-year-old leader of an underground church, Mohammed Ahmed Ali, his family said.
The man was apparently killed after leaving his home in Hodan, on the outskirts of the capital Mogadishu. He leaves behind a wife and a two-year-old son who have fled to neighboring Kenya, Christians said.
Ali had organized New Year’s Day festivities for Christians to take place outside of Mogadishu, but al-Shabab fighters reportedly killed him January 1 after word of the planned party leaked to them.
It was no isolated incident, as several Christians are known to have been killed by the militants in recent months as part of their campaign to introduce strict Islamic rule.
In a statement al-Shabab made clear that its “holy warriors launched a fierce offensive on several locations in Mogadishu where the apostate militias and their Christian backers were stationed.”
They were apparently also referring to government troops, who they accuse of being puppets of the West, and to Ugandan and Burundian forces, who the al-Shabab fighters described as “crusaders bent on introducing Christianity” to Muslim Somalia.
In the latest clashes, witnesses said, the Islamist insurgents launched multiple attacks on government bases and African Union peacekeeping troops Friday, January 19, killing at least 19 people, including women and children. It was the heaviest fighting in a day seen in Somalia’s capital in months.
The battle came as Somalia’s President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed marks his first year in power and underscored that his goal of ending violence in a nation shattered by nearly two decades of war remains as elusive as ever, analysts said.
The violence was expected to make it even more difficult for Somalia’s tiny Christian community. “Somalia is a Muslim country” a religion proclaimed by 99 percent of the population, “with a tiny number of Christians, most of them converts from Islam,” said Barnabas Fund, which has close contacts with Christians in the country.
However “The traditional religion of the Somali people is Islam, and most Somalis take for granted that a true Somali is a Muslim. Christianity is often associated with the oppression of the country by colonial masters,” the advocacy group explained.
“Also there is a long history of conflict between Muslim Somalis and Christian Ethiopians, which escalated in 2006 when Ethiopian forces intervened in the Somali civil war between Mogadishu warlords and Islamic militia, who wanted to see ‘sharia’ (strict Islamic law) implemented throughout the country.”
For these reasons, the group said, “converts to Christianity are often considered traitors, and many converts have been murdered in recent years by Islamist radicals who vowed a few years ago that they would kill all Somali Christians in Mogadishu.”
Groups of Christians have fled to neighboring countries. However others stay behind and despite the dangers continue underground churches in what the international community has called a “failed” state.