Vatican: Italy step up security over threat posed by Islamic militants

February 27, 2015 by admin  
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Italian policemen stand guard near the VaticanVatican City, February 19, 2015: Security at the Vatican and across Italy has been stepped up because of a perceived heightened risk of attacks by Islamist militants, officials said Wednesday.

A day after the Italian cabinet approved new security measures because of fears of a terrorist spillover from the chaos engulfing Libya, the head of the Vatican’s Swiss Guard confirmed additional precautions had been taken to ensure the safety of Pope Francis.

“What happened in Paris with the Charlie Hebdo attacks could also happen at the Vatican. We are ready to intervene to ensure Francis is protected,” Christoph Graf told Italian daily Il Giornale.

“We have asked all the Swiss guards to be more attentive and to carefully monitor the movement of people,” he added, stressing that it was up to the intelligence services to provide detailed information on any potential threat.

Graf acknowledged that Francis’s people-friendly style did not make his job easy.

“He does not like having security too close to him. We have to respect that and keep our distance,” he said.

The Italian government’s security committee on Tuesday placed the country on a heightened state of alert and rubber-stamped a decision taken last week to increase the number of soldiers on anti-terror “safe streets” duties from 3,000 to 4,800.

Expo 2015 on hit list

Italian media reported Wednesday that the site of the upcoming Expo 2015 world fair in Milan, the foreign ministry in Rome, the Vatican and synagogues across the country had been identified as prime potential targets for Islamist militants.

“The risk of an attack by a lone wolf or an unbalanced person is concrete,” said Felice Casson, a senator and secretary of the Copasir parliamentary committee that oversees Italy’s secret services.

“The more successful attacks in other countries are, the greater the risk of someone trying to emulate them in Italy,” he told La Republicca.

The paper said special security had been ordered for some of Italy’s leading journalists and for prominent Italian Jews. Restrictions on government ministers using official planes for private trips have been eased.

Italy has been swept by alarmist rumors in recent days since the posting of a video showing the Islamic State group’s beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya, which is a former Italian colony.

The tape includes a warning that Libya could be used as a platform for attacks on Italy and that IS fighters were “at the south of Rome.”

IS warnings

Some opposition figures in Italy have called for all naval search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean to be suspended because of a much-touted risk of terrorists using refugee boats as a way of getting into Italy to stage so-called lone-wolf attacks.

The government admits it can’t rule out that happening but says screening measures are in place to combat the risk, and that it has yet to find any evidence of IS attempting this.

The government has also had to contend with a widely-circulated claim that up to 200,000 African migrants in Libya are about to embark or be ordered on to ships for Italy.

Matteo Salvini, the far-right leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League, has been the principal promoter of this claim, for which no reliable evidence has so far emerged.

Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said Wednesday that there was an “evident risk” of IS loyalists teaming up with battle-hardened militia fighters in Libya and warned the world time was running out to stabilize the country.

Italy wants world powers to focus all their efforts on getting the warring parties in Libya to unite and squeeze out IS.

If a ceasefire can be established, Rome says it is ready to lead a peacekeeping operation that would also be charged with de-arming a country awash with weapons and providing secure conditions for reconstruction of the conflict-scarred state.

- afp/ucan

Cardinal Zen demands truth over fate of Chinese bishop

February 22, 2015 by admin  
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China, February 17, 2015: Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun led protests outside the Chinese government’s liaison office in Hong Kong on Saturday demanding official confirmation of the death of detained Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang, reports Ucanews.

Cardinal Zen holding Bishop Shi's image“The news of his death had been circulating for two weeks. The government should give us an answer. Is he really dead? When and where did it happen? Will they return the remains to his family,” said Cardinal Zen after the protest.

Family members said they had been informed by Hebei provincial officials in January that the bishop had died, but other local officials have subsequently denied knowing anything about the Bishop’s whereabouts or indeed whether he was dead or alive, according to a Church source.

“One official told the family later that the official who informed them of the news was drunk, while another one said the family had misunderstood, saying that the official approached the family to ask if they knew the recent situation of the Bishop,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

“Isn’t it ridiculous that the officials asked information from the family when it was the government who detained him?” he said.

Bishop Shi, who has spent the best part of the last 60 years in various Chinese prisons and labour camps after refusing to denounce his loyalty to the Catholic Church, would turn 94 this month.

There has been no official confirmation by Chinese authorities of his whereabouts or whether he is dead or alive.

- cathnews

Baghdad patriarch: Lent prayers for peace in Iraq and Chaldean unity

February 20, 2015 by admin  
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People PrayingBaghdad, February 18, 2015: In a message sent to AsiaNews for the start of Lent, His Beatitude Mar Raphael I Louis Sako calls on fellow Chaldeans to work for the unity of the Church, and for peace in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. In it, he also urges his “Muslim brothers and sisters” to take part in the fast for “a few days” during this privileged period of reflection and prayer.

For the Chaldean Patriarch, the time before Easter is a “suitable time for repentance, conversion and reconciliation” with God and others. In view of the difficult conditions affecting people displaced from Mosul and villages in the Nineveh Plain as a result of the violence perpetrated by the Islamic State group, His Beatitude calls for the “Promotion of brotherhood,” [. . .] giving priority to forgiveness [. . .] while refraining from fanaticism”.

Finally, he urges his fellow Iraqis to “love our country as we love our mother and father” and “love our Church” in this period of great renewal.

The Chaldean patriarch’s message to AsiaNews follows:

This Monday we will begin Lent, which is the suitable time for repentance, conversion and reconciliation with oneself, with the Lord, and with others. Let us profit from this time for prayer, reflection, self-appraisal, evaluation, and also to restore harmony, as division is a sin. As responsible persons we are accountable to all what we say and all what we do.

I solicit you to fast as much as you can, for example, the first week, in the middle and in the last week, as I invite also our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters to fast with us for a few days:

To achieve peace stability and decent life as soon as possible in our country and in the Middle East. The life conditions are very difficult in our country, especially for the displaced families.

Promotion of brotherhood, cooperation and coexistence by building a good relationship with everyone, and giving priority to forgiveness, reconciliation and the common good while refraining from fanaticism and conflicts that create discomforts.

To uphold moral values and ideals such as honesty, sacrifice, and helping those in need, “the brother who helps his brother is a fortified city” (Proverbs18:19).

To love our country as we love our mother and father. Belonging to our land is very important because our identity depends on it. We should renew our commitment, and strengthen our unity in diversity rather than sectarianism. Diversity is God’s design. Many common things unite us.

To love our Church and to participate intensely in her renewal. To go back to her pure sources and to recover her unity that she can be a spiritual, cultural and moral authority in order to realize her vocation and mission in the society. Therefore, we should consolidate the Christian presence in Iraq and in the Middle East. We, Christians are testimonies of hope, carrying a history, a civilization and a message.

We went through tougher situations than now, to remember, the massacres of Safarberlik a century ago, so we have to hold on and not to give up, and to renew our trust in the future.

- asianews

Pakistani press club faces threats over Christian journalists

February 19, 2015 by admin  
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Quetta Press ClubQuetta, February 18, 2015: A militant group in Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province has threatened a press club with “action” unless it expels its Christian journalists, club authorities said.

Fidayan-e-Islam, a little-known militant group, sent a letter to the Quetta Press Club on Saturday, accusing Christian journalists of preaching Christianity through an unnamed TV channel.

“You call yourself faithful Muslims, while under your watch Christian journalists are working against Islam,” the letter, written in the Urdu language, stated.

The letter named four Christian photojournalists who are members of the press club, accusing at least one of converting Muslim youth. The letter goes on to warn press club authorities that Fidayan-e-Islam would “initiate action” if they did not expel the Christian journalists.

Two of the Christian journalists named in the letter confirmed its contents to ucanews.com and said they had never attempted to preach Christianity in their work.

“There is no truth in what has been claimed in the letter,” James, who uses a single name and is one of the targeted journalists, told ucanews.com.

Abdul Khalid Rind, Quetta Press Club’s general secretary, said local police have said they will conduct a thorough probe into the threat.

Irfan Saeed, president of the Balochistan Union of Journalists, denounced the threats against media professionals and decried the worsening situation for press freedom in the province.

“Baluchistan has become the most dangerous province for working journalists in Pakistan. Forty journalists have been killed in acts of violence during the last 10 years,” he told ucanews.com.

Saeed said journalists in the province often find themselves caught in the middle, facing threats from both sectarian groups as well as Baluch separatists.

“When we don’t report activities of banned militant outfits, we face threats from them, and if we do we have to face court cases,” he said, adding that nine cases have been lodged against working journalists in Baluchistan in anti-terrorism courts.

- ucanews

China church demolitions speedy, wide in scope

February 16, 2015 by admin  
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China church demolitionsHong Kong, February 13, 2015:More than one year since provincial authorities in Zhejiang began demolishing and removing crosses at hundreds of churches, the campaign may have slowed, according to a timeline published on Thursday by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

In the most comprehensive summary to date on what has been among Asia’s most destructive anti-Christian campaigns of recent times, CSW recorded at least 400 crosses removed, and a further 35 churches wholly or partially destroyed in Zhejiang.

“Although the Chinese government claims that the church demolitions have nothing to do with religion, the scope of the demolitions indicated by the timeline tells a different story,” said CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas.

Authorities in Zhejiang have maintained that the campaign is against all structures that violate building codes, not just churches.?But in what appear to be leaked provincial government documents dated February last year, Communist Party cadres in Zhejiang were warned of religion that “has grown too fast” and ordered to achieve results against religion “within a year”.

The CSW timeline appears to correlate with the orders of Zhenjiang authorities, showing that cross removals and demolitions peaked between April and July.

During this three-month period, crosses were removed and buildings destroyed at more than 230 churches in Zhejiang province.

Since then, the pace appears to have slowed. In December, CSW recorded four such incidents.

“It seems the campaign is fading,” said a lay leader in Zhejiang who declined to be named for security reasons.

As part of what appears to be the first orders issued by the provincial government in the wake of the campaign, officials are now regulating the scale of crosses.

“The size depends on the requirement of the religious affairs bureau in different localities,” the lay leader added.

During the crackdown at least 100 people have been arrested, detained or summoned, according to CSW, and 35 people injured, mostly while trying to protect churches from baton-wielding police.

So far, Catholic and Protestant Church leaders have failed to secure any form of redress.

Last month, a Wenzhou court refused to accept cases by Protestant Pastor Huang Yizi who claimed he was wrongfully detained and tricked into dismissing his lawyers after he was taken into custody for trying to prevent the removal of a cross by authorities.

CSW said that the campaign had caused significant unease among Christians, not just in Zhejiang but across all of China.

“We renew our call for the Chinese authorities to make consistent efforts to enter into dialogue with religious leaders, with a view to promoting mutual trust and positive relations; to provide clear instructions about the process of applying for permission to build a religious structure; and to establish a complaints mechanism for religious buildings which have been refused permission to build,” said Thomas.

- ucanews

Pak: 300 armed Muslims attack Christian boys’ school

February 4, 2015 by admin  
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Islamic extremistsPakistan, January 30, 2015: Close to 300 Muslim students armed with iron bars and sticks attacked a Christian boys’ school in northern Pakistan, reportedly in retaliation to French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s controversial drawings of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The attack left four Christians injured.

“It is very sad that Islamic radicals attack Pakistani Christians because of Charlie Hebdo. Christians condemn the blasphemous cartoons. It is a shame that even after 67 years since the birth of Pakistan, Christians have not yet been considered Pakistani citizens, but are seen as ‘Western allies,’” Nasir Saeed, director of the NGO Center for Legal Aid Assistance & Settlement, told Fides News Agency.

The attack occurred on Panel High School in the city of Bannu, in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Muslim students apparently were able to jump over the outer walls of the school and open the gates before attacking the Christians.

The school has been closed down at least for two days, with additional security measures being considered to protect the students.

Last weekend, Muslim mobs burned down a number of churches and pastors’ homes in Niger, also in protest of Charlie Hebdo’s drawings. At least 10 people were killed in the clashes, with pastors in the capital Niamey revealing that almost anyone associated with churches was targeted.

Marches have also been held in Pakistan, where Muslims insisted that freedom of speech does not give the right to disrespect religion.

The protests concern the Muhammad drawings published by Charlie Hebdo throughout the years, which are considered offensive to many Muslims around the world. The satirical magazine experienced a terrorist attack organized by al-Qaeda earlier in January, when 12 people were shot dead in its offices in Paris. The two gunmen who carried out the attack, and were later killed, said that they were “avenging” Muhammad.

Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons have often targeted Christians as well, as Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill pointed out on Sunday.

“The cartoons of prophet Muhammad are childish caricatures compared to what this publication allows itself in mocking the feelings of Christians,” Kirill said in a sermon.

“Today, in saying ‘no’ to terrorism, killings, violence, we also say ‘no’ to the inexplicable drive by a certain group of people to deride religious feelings.”

Several other Christian leaders, including Pope Francis, have said that it is wrong to ridicule religion in such a way, while also speaking out against terrorism.

“You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others,” Francis told reporters after the attack.

The minority Christian community in Pakistan has been targeted both by the ruling government’s blasphemy laws that often focus on religious minorities, but also by radical mobs that seek to take justice into their own hands.

Saeed said that Christians in such communities are often targeted for actions in Western countries.

“Whenever incidents occur in western countries, the faithful Pakistanis are attacked. Christians, who are already living under constant fear for their lives, become even more vulnerable,” the CLAAS director said. “It is the politicians’ duty to create a cultural environment and a society in which Christians and religious minorities feel safe.”

- christian post

Hizbullah does not want war with Israel, but is ready to fight

February 2, 2015 by admin  
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Lebanon Israel warLebanon, January 31, 2015: “We do not want a war but we are not afraid of it,” said Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hizbullah. Hence, his Shi’a-dominated group has the right to respond to “aggression” from Israel “wherever” it wished.

Nasrallah spoke at a ceremony commemorating the victims of an airstrike on 18 January, which led to an exchange of mortar fire between Hizbullah and Israel on Wednesday that caused further casualties.

As a result, the Israeli Defence Forces beefed up their presence along the border. Local residents were however allowed to go home.

In Wednesday’s violence, Hizbullah fired rockets at Israeli military vehicles, killing two soldiers and wounding seven others. Israeli forces responded by shelling southern Lebanon.

Corporal Francisco Javier Soria Toledo, 36, a soldier with UNIFIL, was killed. The Malaga-born Spanish peacekeeper was on his second mission with the UN peacekeeping force.

The Spanish ambassador to the United Nations, Roman Oyarzun Marchesi, blamed Israel for his death and called for a thorough investigation into the killing.

The attack on Wednesday came after six Hizbullah fighters and an Iranian general were killed in an air strike in Syria on 18 January, which was widely blamed on Israel.

For Nasrallah, not wanting a war does not mean being afraid of it. “We must distinguish between the two and the Israelis must also understand this very well,” he said.

- asianews

Journalist detained in China for reporting on Christian persecution

January 28, 2015 by admin  
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China ChurchChina, January 26, 2015: Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang on Friday detained and questioned a Hong Kong journalist who went to cover a story about the demolition of church crosses in the region.

Jiang Yannan, a reporter for the Hong Kong-based Chinese-language news magazine Asiaweek told RFA’s Mandarin Service that she was detained briefly in Pingyang county near Wenzhou, a city that has been dubbed “China’s Jerusalem” because of a high concentration of Christian believers there.

“I was here to do some reporting and interviews on the demolition of crosses [on Christian churches] … They didn’t hold me for very long. They just stopped me from interviewing people.”

She said police had continued to monitor her movements and contact her interviewees since her release after a brief period of detention at a nearby police station.

“I didn’t pay any attention to them, but they asked me what I was doing,” Jiang said. “They have been following me and bothering the people I am trying to interview.”

She added: “I did a lot of interviews on this trip, and this time the local authorities are being much tougher [on journalists].”

Jiang, who arrived in Pingyang earlier this week, told RFA in a later interview that she had already left the province.

“I am no longer in Zhejiang. I have left the area,” she said. “They were following me the whole time.”

“But it’s not convenient for me to give interviews right now,” Jiang said, before hanging up.

Beijing-based rights lawyer Chen Jiangang, who has been following religious issues in Wenzhou, said he had received a phone call from Jiang earlier on Friday asking for help.

“She called me at around 1pm, when she was in the police car,” Chen said.

“She said the police had dragged her into their vehicle against her will, and driven her to the police station and asked to see her ID,” he said.

“She waited around at the police station for about 10-20 minutes, and then they released her,” he said, adding: “I am in touch with her, and she could be subjected to further restrictions by police at any time.”

According to the US-based Christian rights group China Aid, hundreds of Protestant churches in Zhejiang have been targeted for demolition in the past year.

The actions against churches in Zhejiang are all connected to the province’s “Three Rectifications and One Demolition” campaign, which claims to target all illegal structures, the group said in a recent report on its website.

The campaign calls on local officials to take action to “demolish illegal structures that violate laws and regulations, occupy farmland, affect public safety and major construction, seriously affect urban and rural planning, and those that are located on both sides of main lines of transportation,” it said.

A Wenzhou-based Christian church member who declined to be named said Jiang’s detention could be linked to local tensions around plans to sue the Pingyang authorities over the detention of Fengwo Church pastor Huang Yizi.

Huang’s lawyers plan to file three separate lawsuits against the county government and police department on Monday, according to a report on China Aid’s website.

Huang Yizi was detained on August 2 on suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order,” following clashes between church followers and officials who demolished the church’s cross in July.

“I think this has to do with the congregants’ planning to sue the authorities,” the church member said. “They have hired some new lawyers.”

Zhejiang-based Protestants estimate that crosses were torn down from at least 410 churches in the province during 2014.

“According to our incomplete statistics, from January to November 2014, more than 400 churches with names have either been forcibly torn down or had their crosses forcibly relocated or demolished,” China Aid founder Bob Fu told RFA in an interview earlier this week.

“Previously, these things only happened during the Cultural Revolution,” Fu said.

“But in 2014, they happened in some major cities and regions of Zhejiang province, then sporadically took place in some other provinces,” he said.

“This is a very noticeable change in 2014.”

Jiang’s detention, though brief, comes amid growing concern over the fate of Zhang Miao, a news researcher from the Beijing bureau of Germany’s Zeit News, who was detained while covering a poetry recital at Beijing’s Songzhuang Artists’ Village last October.

Zhang and six others, including artists and a poet, were detained at the event on the outskirts of Beijing in support of the Occupy Central pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

ZEIT correspondent Angela Kockritz, who has launched a social media campaign for Zhang’s release under the hashtag #freemiao, said in a recent online account of her detention that she was accused of “brawling” and assaulting a police officer.

Zhang, who is now being held in a Tongzhou Prison on the outskirts of Beijing, was allowed a meeting with her lawyer on Dec. 10, Kockritz wrote on the ZEIT website on January 14.

“The law forbids police officers and guards to abuse inmates,” she wrote. “But they often avail themselves of certain cell mates who will mistreat other inmates in the knowledge or at the request of the guards.”

“[The lawyer] indicates that we can’t speak freely on the phone, but he does share with me that Miao is suffering both physically and psychologically.”

And in May Japan’s Nihon Keizai Shimbun employee Xin Jian, who worked as a news assistant — a post which often involves reporting activities — was detained ahead of the 25th anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.

China doesn’t allow its own nationals to work as reporters for foreign news organizations, which instead often hire local journalists to act as news assistants or translators.

China led the world in imprisoning journalists in 2014, with a total of 29 behind bars, according to Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which said the authorities are also holding 73 netizens out of a global total of 178 detentions.

However, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) put the figure at 44 jailed journalists in its 2014 annual report.

It said restrictions on state media have tightened significantly since President Xi Jinping took power in November 2012.

- radio free asia

ISIS’ reign of terror: 17 men crucified, mutilated for apostasy; woman stoned to death for adultary

January 26, 2015 by admin  
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isis crucifixionsIraq, January 19, 2015: The Islamic State’s execution spree picked up dramatically last week, as the militant group released its latest round of execution photos. Along with photos showing the execution of two gay men, an adulteress and two bandits in Iraq, the group has also reportedly crucified and executed 17 men accused of fighting against the caliphate.

In releasing its latest wave of execution photos on an Islamic State-affiliated JustPaste.It account, photos show a muslim crowd gathered around a tall brown brick building in the ISIS Iraqi stronghold of Mosul that looks to be many storeis high. In the following photographs, two men were forced to the roof of the building and were hurled over the edge by two ISIS militants.

A subsequent picture captured one of the victim’s freefall and another photo showed their lifeless bodies laying on the dirt ground.

Before the executions, the charges against those who would be executed on that occasion were announced by a masked militant holding a small handheld radio. According to The Daily Mail, the masked militant announced that the two men were accused of engaging in homosexual acts, which is a strict violation of Sharia law and punishable by death.

As hundreds of people gathered to watch the execution, Vice News reports that the Arabic caption included with one of the pictures showing the crowd translates to “The Muslims come to watch the application of the law.”

This is not the first time that the Islamic State has executed gay people by throwing them off the top of a building. In December, photos showed eight ISIS militants in Wilayat al-Furat executing a gay man by throwing him off the roof of a three-story apartment building.

In November, ISIS released photos showing gay men being stoned to death. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights states that the November stonings were ISIS’ first public executions of homosexuals.

Also included in ISIS’ latest round of photo executions, the Daily Mail states that the masked militant announced the execution of two bandits and one veiled woman accused of adultery.

Photos showed the two bandits being transported in the back of a pickup truck, while standing trapped with their wrists tied down to metal cross-like structures. The two men were taken out of the back of the pickup truck and placed before the crowd. Then, two militants shot them in the back of the head. The last photo of the bandits shows their lifeless bodies hanging from the crosses.

Photos show that the woman who was stoned to death for adultery was taken away from the large crowd and executed in a secluded wooded area that appears to be outside of the city.

The first photo shows a bearded ISIS official reading the charges against the woman. The next photo shows ISIS militants pelting the woman with large rocks as she lie on the ground in the fetal position. The final photo shows the militants corralling her dead body with a blue tarp.

Last week, the group also executed 17 men from the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor. Eleven of the men were accused of apostasy for fighting against ISIS. After being killed the bodies of the 17 victims were brutally mutilated by the militants.

The Syrian Observatory believes that the latest round of ISIS executions has come in retaliation for recent assassinations of ISIS officials.

“The Islamic State group has executed 16 men in Deir Ezzor and one more in Raqa, to send a message to all their opponents after recent assassinations of 12 Syrian, Iraqi and Algerian jihadists,” said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Director Rami Abdel Rahman. “ISIS is sending a message to all people living under its control, to say: ‘This is what will happen to any opponent.’”

- christian post

Africa: Muslims outraged by French publication ravage Christians

January 22, 2015 by admin  
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Widespread protests about the depiction of the Prophet MuhammadAfrica, January 18, 2015: International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that churches, Christian business, and pastors’ homes across Niger have been burned and 20 people killed as Muslim protests against Charlie Hebdo’s second portrayal of the prophet Mohammed devolved into violent riots last night. Protests launched by outraged Muslims in former West African French colonies including Niger, Algeria and Senegal as well as in other Muslim-majority countries, including Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan, have produced violent mobs that, at the time of this release, continue to roam the streets of several cities, causing Christians in these and other countries across the world to seek shelter for fear of violent reprisals against them for the French satirical magazine’s provocative publication.

On January 7, Cherif and Said Kouachi stormed Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters in Paris, France, wearing masks and armed with assault rifles. The brothers proceeded to kill 11 Charlie Hebdo staff members while screaming “God is great” and “We have avenged the prophet Mohammed” in Arabic. The brothers then fled back onto the streets of Paris, where they killed two police officers before hijacking a vehicle to escape the scene of the attack. Subsequent attacks connected to the massacre-a violent reprisal for Charlie Hebdo’s inflammatory portrayals of Muslims and the prophet Mohammed-have been carried out across the Île-de-France region of Paris in which radicalized Muslims connected to the massacre murdered five additional French citizens, including both civilians and law enforcement personnel.

According to the BBC, “At least two churches have been set on fire in the capital of Niger amid fresh protests against French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad.” But, in an email to ICC, World Renew’s Niger Director wrote from the capital, Niamey, that “many churches have been burned, pastors’ homes destroyed.” The Director continued, “We are on very high alert as the chaotic mass moves through the city. Many local believers have sought shelter somewhere other than their homes.”

In an email to ICC, Christian missionaries based in Niamey, Niger, wrote that “all of [their] churches have been burned along with the pastor’s homes…almost every church [they] know or are associated with has been attacked.” The missionaries, who despite seeing smoke “around all sides of [their] house” remain in Niamey, continued, writing, “Jesus said ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’ We are confident that this persecution will only grow the church and the Gospel in Niger.”

AFP has reported that as at least seven churches have been burned in Niger, clarifying that “the sites, which were primarily evangelical churches, were torched on the left bank of Niamey, several of them housed in small villas that bore no distinctive religious signs.” The report went on to state that rioters “were also headed for the right bank, which also contains numerous churches.” It’s been reported that in the heart of the city, Niger police have deployed tear gas against those gathered.

International monitors estimate as many as 20 Nigeriennes have been killed in the violence, the worst of which has targeted Christian and government property, including churches, police stations and government buildings in Zinder, Niamey, Maradi and Goure. In an email, World Renew’s Niger Director asked ICC to call on Christians in the West to “pray fervently that the authorities will be able to get the situation under control and that calm will return.”

Burnings of churches and Christian homes and businesses have become increasingly common as radically conservative Islamic teachings imported from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have infiltrated Niger’s mosques. The poorest country in the world, Niger has become a breeding ground for Islamists and jihadists, including Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau. A Nigeriene by birth, Shekau’s sermons espousing a global war against Christians are regularly played over the loud speakers of mosques across Niger, calling young Muslim men to join the jihadist’s cause both in Nigeria with Boko Haram, and in Niger.

Cameron Thomas, ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa said, “Communities across the Islamic world, outraged by the satirical magazine’s depictions of Muslims and the prophet Mohammed, have formed into violent mobs and taken to burning churches and Christian homes and businesses. In response, Christians in Niger, Mali, Sudan and Somalia have fallen into states of panic and, in many cases, have fled their homes for shelter from possible attack in response to the publication’s decision to confront issues of Islamic extremism with cartoons.

Christians in Muslim-majority countries hostile to even the practice, let alone the spread, of Christianity face incredible hardship for their faith that is often made worse by seemingly unconnected actions in the Western world. Over the course of these riots, dozens of churches and Christian businesses and homes will burn for a cause unconnected to themselves. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who have lost property and loved ones in the violence, with the hope that no more innocent lives will fall victim to the violence or destruction that was sparked last week on the streets of Paris and has now spilled over onto the streets of Niamey, more than 2,000 miles away.

- icc

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