By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA (BosNewsLife)– Muslim militants have killed hundreds of Christians, including pregnant women, children, and whole families in Ethiopia’s most populous regional state, aid workers told BosNewsLife.
The coordinated killings of more than 500 Christians in Oromia reportedly began after famous Oromo singer Hachallu Hundessa was shot dead June 29 while driving on the outskirts of the nation’s capital Addis Ababa.
“The attackers are from the Oromo ethnic group, which has traditionally been Muslim, “explained Barnabas Fund, a Christian aid and advocacy group. “They are members of Qeerroo (meaning, “bachelors”), an Oromo male youth movement, “Barnabas Fund added.
Local Christians and aid workers said the militants arrived in cars armed with guns, machetes, swords, and spears for door-to-door attacks on Christian households.
They “sought out and slaughtered Christians,” said well-informed Barnabas Fund in a statement. “Children were forced to witness their parents being brutally murdered with machetes.”
BEHEADED FOR FAITH
Among those killed were Oromo Christians and believers from other ethnic backgrounds, several Christian sources said. At least one Oromo Christian was reportedly beheaded for refusing to deny his faith in Christ.
The militants killed him while tearing off the thread around his neck that is worn by many Ethiopian Christians as a sign of their baptism, Christians said.
His widow told Barnabas in a statement: “The attackers said that it is only he or she who prostrates with us before Allah for prayer, which is considered an Oromo.”
An Ethiopian Christian leader, who was not named amid security concerns, called for an international inquiry into the mass slayings. The leader and other Christians were not immediately identified amid security concerns.
But Barnabas regional contacts confirmed attacks in numerous towns such as Arsi Negele, Ziway, Shashemane, Gedeb Asasa, Kofele, Dodola, Adaba, Robe, Goba, Bale Agarfa, Chiro, Harar, Dire Dawa, Adama, Dera, Asela, and Kembolcha, reaching to the far south-east and east of the African nation.
LISTS OF CHRISTIANS
“Some of the Qeerroo fighters held lists of Christians and were helped by local authorities, often run by Muslims in the Oromia region,” Barnabas Fund explained. They used the lists “to find individuals, particularly those actively involved in supporting the Church,” the group said.
Local witnesses said that police stood by and watched as the murders unfolded. However, Barnabas Fund also noted that in Bale Agarfa area, “some Christians were saved by the intervention of courageous local Muslims who risked their own lives to protect them.”
Besides the killings, Christians’ business premises and houses were burnt, vandalized, or otherwise destroyed by the extremists, Barnabas Fund recalled. “Billions of dollars of damage was caused to property, including businesses owned by internationally renowned Christian athlete, Haile Gebreselassie, in Ziway and Shashamahe towns.”
The severity of the atrocities shocked local witnesses. In Dera, a witness reportedly described how killers desecrated corpses by “dancing and singing, carrying the chopped or hacked body parts of those they slaughtered.”
Another witness reported how the hacked bodies of an elderly Christian couple, who were beaten to death in their home, were dragged through the streets in Gedeb Asasa.
MANY ARE TRAUMATISED
“Thousands of traumatized survivors have fled for their lives, including orphaned children, and many are being sheltered in churches and community centers,” Barnabas Fund told Worthy News.
A regional contact was quoted as saying: “Many still live in fear. Christian leaders from all denominations visited the areas. I watched news where priests and pastors physically wept in tears while listened to horrors from the victims’ families.”
The Ethiopian government reportedly suspended the internet in the region for several weeks in an “attempt to reduce incitement” to violence through social media channels.
But Christians say government security forces have been slow to intervene to halt the mass killings.
Christians compared the increase in murders to the period that led to the Rwandan genocide of hundreds of thousands of people in 1994.
VIOLENCE STILL CONTINUES
Though police detained thousands, including local officials implicated in the attacks, violence continues. Local Christians say “targeted genocide” of Christians by militants continued in the south, south-east, and east of Addis Ababa.
Ethiopian Christians have urged fellow believers worldwide to pressure Ethiopian embassies to take immediate action to end the killings.
Barnabas Fund told Worthy News that these are no isolated incidents. “High-profile Oromo media mogul, Jawar Mohammed, provoked unrest in Ethiopia in October 2019 when he criticized the government in tweets to his supporters. Violent protests ensued, leading to 67 deaths,” it recalled.
“Around the same time, two pastors were beheaded in Sebeta, in the Oromia region to the south-east of Addis Ababa. A Barnabas contact added that many churches were burnt that year,” Barnabas Fund said.
Since September 2018, violent ethnic clashes have led to some two million Ethiopians becoming internally displaced, according to Christian aid workers.