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Young child extremist executes kidnapped Christian student.
Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Islamic State-affiliated terrorists have executed a Christian university student kidnapped earlier this month in northeast Nigeria, sources said.
In a video that Site Intelligence Group reported was released on the Islamic State’s Amaq news website, a boy of indeterminate age with a pistol shoots and kills Ropvil Daciya Dalep, a member of the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) who was kidnapped on Jan. 9 on the Damaturu-Maiduguri Highway while returning to studies in Maiduguri, Borno state.
The armed, masked boy in the video, a member of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) according to Site, says in the Hausa language that the Christian from Plateau state will be killed in retaliation for “atrocities against us,” possibly referring to Muslim-Christian violence in the 2001 Jos riots.
“This is one of the Christians from Plateau state,” the boy says. “We want to tell all Christians that we have not forgotten what you did to our parents and grandparents. Christians all over the world must know that we will never forget their atrocities against us, until we avenge the bloodshed visited on us.”
The video then shows the boy shooting Dalep in the head from behind, and then in the back, killing him.
After Dalep was kidnapped, his family had received no information about his whereabouts. It is unclear when the execution took place, but Site reported that it took place at an unidentified outdoor area in Borno state.
From Jing village in Plateau state’s Pankshin County, according to a Jos resident originally from the area, Dalep was identified by members of his ethnic Mupun people as the one killed in the video. He was a second-year biology education student at the University of Maiduguri.
ISWAP in 2016 broke off from the rebel terrorist group Boko Haram, which originated in Maiduguri.
The Mupun Cultural and Development Association (MUCDA) on Wednesday (Jan. 22) confirmed the execution of Dalep in a press statement issued in Jos, with MUCDA spokesperson Kenzy Ngupar blaming Boko Haram. Many people in Nigeria make no distinction between ISWAP and Boko Haram.
“We have information that he was abducted on his way to school in Maiduguri, which led to the unfortunate video going ‘round of his killing,” Ngupar said. “At this point we condemn in its entirety the senseless abduction and killing of Nigerians in any part of the country and call on the government to step up practical efforts to address this growing menace in our country. MUCDA and indeed the entire Mupun nation is pained by this.”
Fabong Jemchang Yildam, chairman of the Plateau Youth Council (PYC), condemned the killing and declared three days of mourning and prayers among Christians.
“We are indeed pained that our young people have become targets for terrorists despite our peaceful and receptive nature,” Yildam said in a press statement on Wednesday (Jan. 22). “This gruesome murder of an innocent Plateau son is totally unacceptable and unjustifiable. It is an outrage to freedom of religion movement and respect for human lives.”
Saying the PYC strongly believes that humans are born free and equal and should achieve their full potential in a safe and loving society irrespective of background and belief, Yildam said the execution of Dalep was a serious setback in the quest for religious freedom.
“We demand that the perpetrators be brought to justice and receive punishment commensurate with the crime they have committed,” Yildam said. “Government must intensify the war against Boko Haram and other terrorist groups in Nigeria and must ensure the safety of Nigerians anywhere in the country.”
Yildam called on Plateau youths to wear black armbands or black clothes in mourning through Friday (Jan. 24).
“We remain law-abiding even in this period of darkness and mourning,” the PYC spokesperson said. “We also commiserate with the immediate family of the martyr and others whose lives were untimely snuffed out. For the victory of evil over good can only be temporary.”
Lutheran Pastor Killed
In Adamawa state in northeast Nigeria, Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria (LCCN) officials confirmed the killing of the Rev. Dennis Bagauri at his church site home in the Nassarawa Jereng area, Mayo Belwa County, on Monday (Jan. 20).
He was shot to death the same day the district chairman of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, the Rev. Lawan Andimi, was beheaded by Boko Haram in the Michika area of Adamawa state.
The Rev. Musa Filibus, archbishop of LCCN, issued a press statement on Tuesday (Jan. 21) from the church’s headquarters in Numan town, Adamawa state, saying gunmen believed to be from Boko Haram killed Pastor Bagauri.
“The church leadership condemns in the strongest term the killing of the man of God, who has been in the vineyard of service to God,” Filibus said. “Please pray for the security agents to fish out the killers of our pastor.”
Yola resident Rebecca Musa told Morning Star News in a text message that “the men armed with guns broke into the LCCN where the pastor lives and shot him dead at night when all persons in the area had gone to sleep.”
Besides leading a congregation, Pastor Bagauri also served as an adviser on religious matters to the Adamawa government. The state police commissioner said investigations are underway.
Adamawa Gov. Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri on Tuesday (Jan. 21) sent his condolences to the church and the family of the slain pastor, whom he described as “a God-fearing man, easy-going, and with great humility.”
Nigeria ranked 12th on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution but second in the number of Christians killed for their faith, behind Pakistan.
What Iraq’s Christians want from the West is to say the plain truth: that there is ethnic cleansing of Christians in the region and it is ongoing, Dr Tim Stanley told a meeting at the UK’s parliament last Tuesday, 9 July.
“If we don’t say what is really happening in the region, which is ethnic cleansing of both Christians and Yazidis, we allow Islamic State and other perpetrators to get away with it,” Stanley told the audience at the event, ‘The Global Persecution of Christian Minorities’, organised by the Henry Jackson Society, a British foreign-policy think tank.
Since Islamic State was pushed out of the region, displaced Iraqis have slowly started to return to their communities but continue to live in fear and they continue to be vulnerable. Pockets of IS fighters are still active and the group has said it started the fires that in recent weeks torched hundreds of acres of land and crops, “owned by infidels”, in northern Iraq.
Meanwhile, Iranian-backed militias have moved into areas previously under IS-control, discouraging people to trade with Christians, Stanley said.
In January, a UN team started investigations in the country to collect evidence of genocide and war crimes committed by Islamic State fighters, in order to take the perpetrators to court in Iraq. The UN has been reluctant to recognise the violence against Christians and Yazidis as genocide, despite pressure from civil society groups and some of its own member states such as the Netherlands.
‘Instruments of the West’
Those who have returned to their communities and want to leave, face challenges such as the western visa application processes, according to Stanley.
The US, under the Trump administration, has taken fewer Iraqi refugees in than it did during the Obama administration. Instead, it sent an aid package of US$35 million to the region to support Iraqi Christians and Yazidis who had suffered under IS occupation. The UK also has been slow on the uptake.
Stanley acknowledged that it’s not always a simple matter of putting pressure on governments to treat Christians fairly. Christians often are considered to be instruments of Western governments, and as such are regarded as a threat to national identity or security. The challenge, then, is to help Christians without exposing them to undue risk, he said.
For the UK government, this could mean including the topic of religious freedom in future trade negotiations, said Dr Matthew Rees, Head of Advocacy for Open Doors UK and Ireland. It is one of the policy recommendations the Christian religious-freedom charity has made to the country’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the back of an independent review of how the government department supports persecuted Christians.
“Just like climate change, the topic of religious freedom is not a one-party or single-leader issue but something to grow consensus around”, Rees said.
SYRIA: A car bomb detonated outside of the Virgin Mary Syriac Orthodox Church near the northeast border with Turkey in Qamishli. Up to 12 were wounded with at least 3 are in serious condition. According to preliminary reports, the jihadists group Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.
The city of Qamishli, is currently controlled by Kurdish militias, has been the scene in recent years of various terrorist acts aimed at affecting Christian communities, reports Agenzia Fides. On June 19, 2016, Mar Ignatios Aphrem II, Patriarch of Antioch of the Syrian-Orthodox survived a deadly attack in Qamishli. On that occasion a suicide terrorist had infiltrated a celebration organized to commemorate the “Assyrian genocide” of 1915 (Sayfo), perpetrated by the Ottoman army against Christian sire and Assyrian communities. The bomber had been blocked at the entrance of the place where the celebration was presided by the Patriarch, and it is there that he blew himself up, causing the death of three people.
Sharing of Thursday’s church attack, a Syrian Othrodox Christian posted on Twitter
“This war is from Satan against you, Lord. Against humanity, created in your image.”
SUMMARY—Up to 1.2 million people were displaced by the violence in Iraq in 2014 alone. Millions more live in fear. Massacres, beheadings, crucifixions, abductions, and sexual violence are rampant. Islamic State has attempted to eliminate entire Christian communities. As many as eight million people are believed to now live under the partial, or complete, control of IS.
This modern day nightmare has not only darkened the landscape of Iraq and Syria, but the whole world, with over 11,000 people from abroad joining the ranks of the 30-50,000 Islamic State militants. Teaching an extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam, they believe they are the only true believers and see the rest of the world as their enemy. Using violence to get what they want, their goal is the creation of an Islamic caliphate ruled by a single political and religious leader, ruling Muslim communities around the world.
Despite these gruesome realities, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but…against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12). This is a spiritual battle against our adversary, the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8).
We hate the darkness and underlying evil, and we grieve the resulting bloodshed and pain. Yet Jesus still says, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44). God’s love reaches not only those suffering under this oppression, but it reaches even into the ranks of Islamic State. Just as God transformed Saul into Paul through an encounter with Jesus, so can He transform today’s persecutors into tomorrow’s evangelists. And He is doing just that.
As we continue on the nightly prayer conference call during Ramadan, using the Prayercast Ramadan Challenge prayer points, let us unite in prayer that the church will grow where the enemy tries to destroy those who follow Christ. Let us pray that they will come out of the darkness to follow Jesus. Pray the Light of Christ will shine in places where there is hatred from those who don’t know our Lord and Savior.
Blaine Scogin, Prayer Director of Persecution Watch and Voice of the Persecuted
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Many of Iraq’s Christians celebrated their first Easter since returning to their homes. With the help of local churches and other organisations, people in the country’s largest Christian city, Qaraqosh (also known as Baghdida), have restored their homes and are now attempting to recover the lives they lost when the Islamic State group took over the city nearly four years ago.
The pastor of the Mar Behnam and Sarah Church, located in the centre of Qaraqosh, talks about how the city, which was deserted following IS’s onslaught, is starting to recover.
(World Watch Monitor) The images were horrific. Father Samaan Shehata, a 45-year-old Coptic Orthodox priest, lay dead on the ground, stabbed and beaten by a young man wielding a meat cleaver.
Blood dripped down his face into his long, black beard. Dirt discoloured his flowing black robe. His cross pendant rested peacefully on his chest, eerily imitated in the cross-like stabbing etched into his forehead.
Many details remain unknown, but early indications point to extremism. Fr. Shehata was from Beni Suef, visiting a family in Cairo 150 kilometres north in a lower-class, urban suburb of Cairo.
It may well be he was targeted only for the clothes he was wearing – in Egypt, a clear indication of his religious profession.
He was left a public spectacle. So far, no claim of responsibility, no message of intention. There are possible hints circulating of mental instability on the part of the attacker.
Perhaps. Murder is rare in Egypt. Despite the increased terrorism suffered by Copts in recent years, this killing is unusual. There is a chance it was random. But few think so. Coptic social media immediately proclaimed Fr. Shehata a martyr, adding him to the growing scroll.
The image, however, may have lasting effect, reinforcing a decades-old message: the streets are not the place for priests.
Bishop Angaelos of the United Kingdom held the requisite forgiveness to the end of his statement, pouring out instead his frustration and anger.
“Why should a priest not be able to walk safely down a street?” he demanded. “Coptic Christians who have endured injustice, persecution, and loss of life for centuries without retaliation, repeatedly forgiving unconditionally, deserve to live with respect and dignity in their indigenous homeland.”
Samuel Tadros, a Coptic-American analyst, took to Twitter to highlight the social reality.
“This may be a horrific crime but it does not happen in a vacuum,” he wrote. “Coptic priests are insulted and harassed daily as they walk in Egy[ptian] streets.”
Respect. Dignity. Insult. Harassment. What is the way forward? The answer may lie partially in the clothes that sparked the assault.
Better law enforcement is necessary. Education must be reformed. These are the standard answers offered, and there is logic to them. But if they are not going to change anytime soon, what are Copts to do in the meantime?
Years ago I met my first Coptic priest in America, and I asked him about his beard and robe. They are tradition, he explained, but they are so much more.
To a degree, they are public spectacle.
Protestant pastors often blend into society. Catholic priests sometimes take off their vestments. But the Coptic Orthodox clergyman must look distinctive at all times. He is a sign of the church, a message to the people that God’s kingdom is near.
But in recent decades in Egypt, that kingdom has become less and less visible.
Let no one think that the nation is aflame. Muslims and Christians are neighbours and friends. Sectarianism is an ever-latent virus poisoning many, but for the most part life goes on amid patterns of discrimination and identity groupings.
But facing a growing Muslim – often Islamist – domination of the public square, especially before the revolution, Copts have increasingly withdrawn into their churches.
Who can blame them? Spitting is real. Priests travel for visitation in cars with tinted windows. Why not, if the money is there? Egypt drives everywhere these days, just look at the traffic.
But money is also a demarcating line. A priest can shop comfortably in the hypermarkets of upper-class Cairo. Will he buy vegetables off a donkey cart in poor Upper Egypt?
Perhaps this murder is a reminder that he must. Otherwise he cedes the public square completely.
“Why should a priest not be able to walk safely down a street? Coptic Christians who have endured injustice, persecution, and loss of life for centuries without retaliation, repeatedly forgiving unconditionally, deserve to live with respect and dignity in their indigenous homeland.”
Courage is necessary. Conviction. A certainty his service is not only for Christians, but ‘salt and light’ in the stability of his nation. Kingdom of God or not, Egypt, as every society, is only as strong as its minority members.
So let Coptic priests go and find friends. Invite the local imam for a stroll. Have a tea in the corner coffee shop. Circulate together. Purposefully.
Much in Egypt is centralised, and institutions can be nervous. But who can oppose it? National unity is state discourse. The Azhar would esteem. But why wait for official endorsement? Just go and ask the imam already visited on holidays. Can he refuse?
Let this not be naïve. National unity is often perceived as a grudging obligation for public perception. Many hearts – on both sides – are not pure.
And there is another risk. This must not be about ‘protection’. An interpretation of Islam holds that Muslims must guard over the Christians in their society. It can be a noble intention; it can also be at odds with citizenship. The priest must seek no favours, only partnership in society.
But let them be a public spectacle. This is your neighbourhood. Your country. Your fellow Egyptian. Your friend. Teach together.
It is also your gospel. Christians believe Jesus disarmed the evil spiritual powers of sin and disunity, making a public spectacle of them on the cross.
To preach this message, St. Paul and the apostles became public spectacles on display, as ‘fools’ for Christ condemned to die.
Much like Fr. Shehata.
But this is not a fool’s errand. There is even an institution dedicated to the effort. The Egyptian Family House has walked priests and imams in the streets before. Children crowded around and celebrated. Adults took selfies.
Let the cynicism come; all too often it is justified. But let the heart be pure and fight through it with love and solidarity. And courage. Let no-one pretend there will not be another extremist.
Fr. Shehata died dishonourably in one of the most populated areas of Cairo. Soon his idealised image will circulate with the crown of martyrdom. But which picture will hold in the mind of Copts?
The cross on his chest, or the cross on his forehead?
A priest belongs on the streets, like any Egyptian. May he choose wisely.
(World Watch Monitor) Egyptian police have charged a Coptic mother with the murder of her newborn baby, though she says her baby was killed by intruders who entered her home and took her baby from her arms.
Azza Gamal, 27, was home alone with her two-year-old twin girls Mariam and Martha, and baby daughter Mohrael, on the evening of 7 September. Her husband, Nour Bakhit Khalil, 30, had gone to visit his sister, who lives nearby, when he heard his wife scream.
The Khalil family live in a house on the outskirts of the village of Barba in Egypt’s Asyut governorate. They live in the western part of the village, bordering a cemetery and are surrounded plants. The house is small, with an unfinished upper floor, and a ground floor that contains a hall, kitchen, toilet and two rooms.
Speaking to World Watch Monitor, Azza explained that when her husband left to visit his sister, Azza locked the door. She only opened it again when she heard what she assumed to be her husband knocking on the door. In front of her, however, stood three masked men wearing galabiyas (full-length gowns) and a woman in a black abya (a robe-like dress) and niqab (a face-veil covering all but the eyes) who pushed her inside, grabbing the baby from her arms. They then beat her, shouting “kafirs” (“infidels”) and fled, taking the baby with them.
Upon hearing his wife screaming, Nour ran home to see what had happened and was told that his daughter, Mohrael, had been kidnapped.
“I immediately went to the police station to report the kidnapping of my daughter,” he told World Watch Monitor. “They asked me to fetch my wife and our ID cards and then to come back to file a report. None of them went back with me to investigate the matter or search for my daughter.”
When Nour arrived back at his house, he received the news that his daughter had been found, with her throat slit and her body dumped among the plants just 10 meters from their home. He returned to the police station, this time with his wife, to report on what he had seen. The police started an investigation and promised they would do their best to find and arrest the perpetrators.
However, four days later, on 11 September, the police came back and raided their home.
“The officers slapped my wife in the kitchen and said that she had killed her daughter and arrested her,” Nour explained. “They alleged that my wife suffers from psychological problems because of her desire to have a male rather than a female child, as she [already] has two girls. Allegedly she [also] killed Mohrael because I dislike having girls and wanted a boy instead of this girl.”
“We are simple people, we had no enemies, and there isn’t any trouble between us and anyone in the village,” Nour said.
As for his wife of three years being charged with the murder of his daughter, Nour called that “false, irrational and unreasonable”.
“My wife is a very good woman. She is a religious person who has a strong relationship with God and could not do something like killing her daughter,” he said. “She and I were very happy when God blessed us with this little girl. Mohrael was very beautiful and cute and a great gift from God to us and we loved her so much. Azza stayed up every night to take care of her, playing with and nursing her. How then could she kill her? I also haven’t seen any bad behaviour from [my wife’s] side since we got married. She treats me well, is very humble and loves me and our daughters so much, especially the new baby. As for me, I wasn’t angry because my wife had a girl. On the contrary I love the girls and I was very happy when my wife gave birth to Mohrael. Saint Mary was a girl. Boys and girls are gifts from God and none can object this gift.”
Meanwhile, Nour and Azza’s church has hired a lawyer on their behalf. Since the couple don’t have money to cover the legal fees, the church released a statement asking if “the people of our village will contribute even a small part to pay for these costs”.
Rev. Salib said it is obvious the attackers were familiar with this part of the village, where most of the residents are Christians, living on the outskirts, close to where the vegetation becomes thicker. “They knew what they were doing [and] planned for everything accurately as they chose the suitable time to break into the home,” he said. “It was about 9.30pm, [a time when] most of the villagers in Upper Egypt are asleep.”
It remains unclear who was behind the attack on the Khalil family, but this year Egypt’s Copts have frequently been targeted by Islamic extremists with links to the Islamic State group, which vowed to “wipe them out”. As World Watch Monitor has reported, IS has recently shifted its focus from the Sinai Peninsula towards establishing a foothold in Upper Egypt, an area said to be “marginalised” by politicians, lacking in security and in which many people are poor and uneducated.
(World Watch Monitor) Three years to the day since the Islamic State group took control of the Iraqi city of Mosul, a new report estimates that 50-80% of the Christian populations of Iraq and Syria have emigrated since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
The arrival of IS was only the “tipping point” of a trend already gathering pace as Christians experienced an “overall loss of hope for a safe and secure future”, according to the report, produced by Christian charities Open Doors, Served and Middle East Concern.
The report also notes that for the Christians who have settled elsewhere, there is “little incentive” to return, with several interviewees saying “the Middle East is no longer a home for Christians”.
“There is little incentive to return, with several interviewees saying the Middle East is no longer a home for Christians.”
In a policy paper released alongside the report, the three charities call on the EU to help establish an “accountability mechanism” to deal with incidents of religious and ethnic persecution and discrimination in Iraq and Syria.
“Creating a national accountability mechanism for grievances is a long-term solution which aims to restore faith in a system that ensures all religious and ethnic communities are affirmed as equal citizens and deserving of protection, while also deterring negative actors from taking adverse actions against these communities,” the charities write.
They urge the EU to “advocate for the establishment of the mechanism through its contacts with the Iraqi and Syrian governments” and to provide funding, technical support and monitoring. The mechanism, the charities add, “should be transparent and inclusive, ensuring all key stakeholders at all levels (government, community leaders, civil society and the public) are represented adequately”.
The report, ‘Understanding the recent movements of Christians leaving Syria and Iraq’, acknowledges the difficulty of producing definitive figures, as it estimates that the overall Christian population of Iraq has reduced from “well over 300,000” in 2014 to 200,000-250,000 today – “many” of whom are now displaced internally. In Syria, meanwhile, the charities estimate that the Christian population of around 2 million in 2011 has “roughly halved”.
“Factors for leaving included the violence of conflict, including the almost complete destruction of some historically Christian towns in the Nineveh plains of northern Iraq, the emigration of others and loss of community, the rate of inflation and loss of employment opportunities, and the lack of educational opportunities,” the report notes. “While direct violence, such as the movements of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria, was the tipping point for displacement, the ultimate decision to leave the countries was portrayed as an accumulation of factors over time.”
A greater number of Christians are thought to have left Syria, but only because the initial population was higher, according to the report, which adds that a greater proportion of Iraq’s Christians have left the country.
The Christians have emigrated via a range of routes, including resettlement programmes through churches, formal refugee registration and “illegal routes” – though the deaths of Christians trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe have reportedly “dissuaded some”, while “the high price of these routes have made them unavailable for others”.
Lebanon has reportedly taken in the most Christians, while thousands more have resettled in Jordan and Turkey, and a smaller number in European countries such as Sweden and Germany. However, “recent policy changes, as well as living conditions, have made arrival or staying in many of these countries, such as Sweden, incredibly difficult”, the report concludes, adding: “There were reports of returns [home], but many expressed the sentiment that Christians have given up hope of returning.”
However, the charities note that “many” of those who remain “want to play their part in rebuilding the shattered societies of Iraq and Syria. They want to be seen as Iraqi or Syrian citizens, enjoying the full rights of citizenship, such as equality before the law and full protection of their right to freedom of religion or belief, including the ability for everyone to freely worship, practise, teach, choose and change their religion. They are not calling for special privileges as a religious minority.”