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LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Islamist groups are threatening the family and attorney of a young Christian man shot dead by Muslim in-laws who also wounded his wife over her decision to marry him and leave Islam, the attorney said.
Aleem Masih, 28, married Nadia, 23, last year after she put her faith in Christ.
“The couple fled to Narang Mandi, some 60 kilometers [37 miles] away from Lahore, as Nadia’s Muslim family launched a manhunt for them to avenge the shame their daughter had brought upon them by recanting Islam and marrying a Christian,” attorney Aneeqa Maria of The Voice Society told Morning Star News.
Maria said that the Christian couple had filed a petition in the Lahore High Court seeking police protection due to threats against them by Nadia’s family, who were also threatening Masih’s relatives.
On July 30, Nadia’s family received a tip that the couple would visit a doctor in Khaliqnagar, in the Youhanabad area, that evening, Maria said. Eyewitnesses said Nadia’s father, Muhammad Din Meo, along with her brothers, seized the driver of a three-wheeled rickshaw in which the couple were riding and abducted the couple, the attorney said. They took the couple to a nearby farm.
“The Muslim men first brutally tortured the couple with fists and kicks and then thrice shot Aleem Masih – one bullet hit him in his ankle, the second in the ribs while the third targeted his face,” the attorney said. “Nadia was shot in the abdomen.”
Maria said that the Muslim relatives left believing they had killed the couple.
“The attackers returned to their village and publicly proclaimed that they had avenged their humiliation and restored the pride of the Muslims by killing the couple in cold blood,” she said. “Nadia’s brother, Azhar, then presented himself before the police and confessed to having killed his sister and her Christian husband.”
Police, however, found Nadia still breathing when they arrived at the farm.
“She was shifted to the General Hospital in Lahore, where she is fighting for her life after a major operation in which two bullets were removed from her abdomen,” said the lawyer.
Maria said that when she and her team visited the hospital, a large number of Muslims were gathered there.
“The mob, some of them armed with weapons, was shouting furious anti-Christian slogans,” she said. “They were also praising Azhar for restoring the pride of the Muslim Ummah [community] and saying that he had earned his place in paradise for killing an ‘infidel.’”
She found a similar display at the local police station, where a large number of Muslims had gathered to pressure police.
The next day officers registered a case against Azhar and others, including Nadia’s father, but police have not taken them into custody as they have been granted pre-arrest bail, she said.
Maria said the Muslim family and Islamist groups were now threatening her, demanding that she and the slain Christian’s family drop the case.
“We are pursuing the case nonetheless,” she said. “Murder in the name of religion and honor must not be allowed, and the perpetrators should be held accountable for this brutal act.”
The investigating officer in the case could not be reached for comment.
In Gujrat District of Punjab Province, three Christians including a pastor have been charged with blasphemy and terrorism for using the word “Rasool” (apostle) on posters referring to the pastor’s deceased father.
Pastor Aftab Gill and two other Christians were taken into custody in Nai Abadi, Gujrat, after police spotted posters that referred to clergyman Fazal Masih as Rasool in marking the 20th anniversary of his death.
Rasool in Pakistan is commonly used to refer to Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. The word is also used several times in the Urdu Bible as a translation of “apostle” and “disciple,” and it is used frequently in church sermons and in Christian writings.
“We have arrested three men, including the son of the priest, because they used the word Rasoolfor the late Fazal Masih,” said area police official Shahid Tanveer.
He said that officers had summoned local Muslim clerics and elders of the Christian community to the police station to consult them on the matter.
“The Christians organizing the event apologized and asked forgiveness, saying they had used the word to celebrate Masih’s services to Christianity, but the Muslim clerics refused to accept the apology,” Tanveer said. “A case under anti-terrorism law and blasphemy has been registered against the organizers, and three men have been arrested, while 11 others are at large.”
He did not explain why police filed terrorism charges, though the charge is often used in sensitive and high profile cases as it gives access to a fast-track trial.
The pastor’s brother, Unitan Gill, said that their father had established the local Biblical Church of God in Nai Abadi several years ago. His brother, Pastor Gill, runs a grocery shop in the area besides operating a small English teaching institute.
“My brother’s business was flourishing, and this caused anguish in the local Muslim community,” he said, asserting that area Muslims Rukhsar Butt, Umer Butt, Iftikhar Butt, Faisal Munir and others had instigated police to arrest the Christians “even though the matter did not warrant such harsh action.”
“The mala fide against us is evident, because a local policeman named Mukhtar Ahmed has been made complainant in the case,” Unitan Gill said.
Area residents said police prevented massive destruction by Muslims by arresting the Christians, as Muslims wanted to burn the Christians alive and set their houses and the Biblical Church of God building on fire over blasphemy accusations. There are about 100-120 Christian families in the neighborhood.
Christians, who make up around 2 percent of Pakistan’s population, have been increasingly targeted in recent years, often over allegations of blasphemy. The Supreme Court agreed last month to hear an appeal by a Christian mother against her death sentence in a blasphemy case that has drawn criticism from rights campaigners.
Aasiya Noreen, commonly known as Asia Bibi, is a mother of five who has been on death row since 2010 after she was accused of insulting Muhammad during a quarrel with Muslim women.
We have received many requests, please pray for our brothers and sisters in Pakistan.
Coptic teacher in Minya Province, woman in Cairo latest victims of vitriol.
(Morning Star News) A Coptic Christian teacher in Egypt allegedly shot by the teenage brother of one of his students has died, human rights activists said yesterday.
Ashraf Alahm Atef Hanna, an English teacher at Marzouk Prep School in the village of Marzouk in Minya Province, succumbed to injuries from the shooting on Tuesday (April 8). He was 35.
In what some activists said was a sign of both endemic disrespect toward educators and the vitriol of some segments of Egyptian society toward Christians, Hanna was shot in the head on April 1 by the 16-year-old Muslim brother of one of his students. According to human rights activists and local media sources, the teacher caught one of his students smoking in class. When the teacher told the boy to stop smoking, the Muslim student cursed at the teacher and insulted him in front of class.
The teacher responded by striking the student, allowed under school guidelines, and the boy stormed out of the class in anger.
The student later returned to the school with his family, which area residents said has ties to local Islamic extremist groups. The group chased the teacher through the school, and after catching him, they beat him and shot him once in the head. He was taken immediately to a hospital, where he lay near death for a week.
Authorities arrested at least four members of the family, including Mohamed Naser Mustafa, the one alleged to have shot Hanna.
Mina Thabet, spokesman and founding member of The Maspero Youth Union, said that the near constant din of anti-Christian vitriol from Islamists that creates and reinforces hate toward the Copts is to blame for the killing.
“They have an ideology about creating the ‘other,’” he said. “That’s the problem. They hate everyone different from them. The hate speech is responsible for the majority of sectarian violence and the majority of killings in Egypt.”
The most recent killing comes during a recent spate of seemingly random attacks against Copts in Egypt, including the shooting death of a 25-year-old Coptic woman, Mary Sameh George.
On March 28, in the Ain Shams section of Cairo, George was shot while on her way to take money to three people she knew from a ministry in which she was involved.
Contrary to multiple reports, George was not stabbed or strangled but had been shot in the chest at least once through the windshield of her car, according to her father, Sameh George. He examined her body and said there were no signs of stabbing or strangling.
She was driving near the Church of the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Michael in Ain Shams, where supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were rioting. According to George, the mob spotted a cross in her car and a pair of cross earrings she was wearing and, along with the fact that she wasn’t wearing a veil, they discerned that she was a Christian.
The mob pulled her out of her car after she was dead or close to dying, he determined, and then set the vehicle on fire. They left her corpse in the street.
Eyewitness reports of George being stabbed and/or strangled were likely rooted in the chaotic scene and the fact that in the same general area on the same day she was shot, a female journalist and three other Muslims were killed.
No charges have been filed in the killings, and no confirmation of arrests has been released by the government.
George was a law school graduate who was working at a small private company. Her father said that, contrary to media reports, she was not engaged. She had recently told her father that she had no desire to get married because she wanted to dedicate all of her energy to serving God and helping Cairo’s many poor.
“She told me, ‘What good are other people getting out of it?’” Sameh George said. “She said she preferred to work with ministries.”
George said he was devastated by the killing and that his wife is utterly shattered. She is unable to speak to anyone about the loss of her daughter. Still, he said, his daughter’s death has taught a valuable if bitter lesson.
“From what happened to my daughter we learned that we have to be ready,” he said. “We all have to wake up. There is no guarantee when someone is going to die. So we have to start getting prepared now…That’s the thing that we all woke up to.”
On the day Hanna died, several gunmen opened fire on a Coptic-owned electric supply store in the Al-Matariyyah area of Cairo. Although unrelated to the shooting, the attack was widely believed to be part of an effort to incite attacks on Copts in southern Cairo. Two brothers suffered serious injuries, but despite their shop being gutted by bullet fire, they were not killed. No arrests were made in the killing.
On Monday (April 7) a Muslim tried to set fire to the Virgin Mary Church in Mansheet Nasr, on the outskirts of Cairo, by pouring gasoline on the one of the church buildings. Copts at the building turned him away, but he returned later with an unspecified weapon. Thabet of the Maspero group said three people were seriously injured and needed hospitalization.
NAIROBI, Kenya (Morning Star News) – Gunmen who said they intended to kill a Christian in Mogadishu, Somalia for spreading his faith shot him to death last month, the victim’s neighbor said.
Two men armed with pistols shot Abdikhani Hassan seven times as he approached his home after closing his pharmacy in Kharkinley District on Oct. 20, his Muslim neighbor told a Morning Star News source. Hassan is survived by his wife, who is pregnant, and five children ranging in age from 3 to 12.
Before killing Hassan, one of the assailants told the neighbor, “We have information that Hassan is spreading wrong religion to our people, and we are looking for him,” the neighbor said.
“I got so frightened as the two young men left,” said the neighbor, whose identity is withheld for security reasons.
The unidentified attackers did not rob Hassan of anything.
Islamic extremists from the Al Shabaab rebel group have killed several Christians in the past few years, and although the group no longer controls Mogadishu, a few rebels hiding their militant identity remain in the capital, a source said.
“The men who murdered Abdikhani are suspected to be Al Shabaab militia, and the government is carrying out an investigation looking for the two killers,” he said.
Al Shabaab, the Somali cell of Al Qaeda, has vowed to rid Somalia of its Christians, who meet secretly in the country where apostasy, or leaving Islam, is punishable by death. The group is suspected of killing Fatuma Isak Elmi, 35, on Sept. 1 inside her home in Beledweyne, Hiran Province in south-central Somalia (see Morning Star News, Sept. 9). Her husband had received a threatening note that morning believed to be from the Islamic extremist group and was away at the time of the murder.
Al Shabaab’s attack on the upscale Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya on Sept. 21 killed at least 67 people, with dozens still unaccounted for (see Morning Star News, Sept. 22).
On April 13, Al Shabaab militants shot Fartun Omar to death in Buulodbarde, 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Beledweyne (see Morning Star News, April 22). Omar was the widow of Mursal Isse Siad, killed for his faith on Dec. 8, 2012 in Beledweyne, 206 miles (332 kilometers) north of Mogadishu. He had been receiving death threats for leaving Islam (see Morning Star News, Dec. 14, 2012).
Siad and his wife, who converted to Christianity in 2000, had moved to Beledweyne from Doolow eight months before. The area was under government control and there was no indication that the killers belonged to the Al Shabaab rebels, but the Islamic extremist insurgents were present in Buulodbarde, and Christians believed a few Al Shabaab rebels could have been hiding in Beledweyne.
On June 7 in Jamaame District in southern Somalia, insurgents from the group shot 28-year-old Hassan Hurshe to death after identifying him as a Christian, sources said (see Morning Star News, June 20). Al Shabaab members brought Hurshe to a public place in the town of Jilib and shot him in the head, they said.
On Feb. 18, suspected Islamic extremists shot Ahmed Ali Jimale, a 42-year-old father of four, on the outskirts of the coastal city of Kismayo (see Morning Star News, Feb. 28).
In the coastal city of Barawa on Nov. 16, 2012, Al Shabaab militants killed a Christian after accusing him of being a spy and leaving Islam, Christian and Muslim witnesses said. The extremists beheaded 25-year-old Farhan Haji Mose after monitoring his movements for six months, sources said (see Morning Star News, Nov. 17, 2012).
Mose drew suspicion when he returned to Barawa, in the Lower Shebelle Region, in December 2011 after spending time in Kenya, according to underground Christians in Somalia. Kenya’s population is nearly 83 percent Christian, according to Operation World, while Somalia’s is close to 100 percent Muslim.
“I will stir up Egyptian against Egyptian—
brother will fight against brother, neighbor against neighbor, city against city, kingdom against kingdom. Isaiah 19:2
Egypt: The cabinet expressed on Monday “deep sorrow” regarding the sectarian violence that broke out in the Beni Suef village of Diabiya on Sunday. “The cabinet stressed its condemnation of all forms of violence and incitement, which causes strife between the sons of one homeland,” read the cabinet’s statement.
“The cabinet reiterates that the government will address it with all resolution and rejects attempts to sow discord and spread sedition.”
The cabinet called on Egyptians to be aware of “attempts made by some” to disrupt national unity. The statement also said the cabinet had decided to restructure the Supreme Council for Justice and Equality, a body that was established under former prime minister Essam Sharaf in 2011 and reactivated under ousted president Mohamed Morsi’s prime minister Hesham Qandil following violence at the Coptic Cathedral in April.
“I appeal to all to preserve [the] lives of fellow Egyptians with restraint to prevent violence and reckless attacks against any person or place,” said head of the Coptic Orthodox Church Pope Tawadros II on his Twitter account on Monday.
Restructuring the council, according to the statement, would involve developing mechanisms to intervene rapidly in social strife in coordination with the security apparatus, which has been criticised for being slow to respond to sectarian violence, especially in Upper Egypt.
A fight in the village of Diabiya broke out on Sunday after a dispute resulting from a Christian resident building a speed bump in front of his house, according to statements from pastor of the local church, Father Rizkallah Joudra to state-owned Al-Ahram.
An altercation started between the Christian and a Muslim neighbour and the situation escalated when “extremist Muslims,” according to the pastor, attacked Christian homes and stores with molotov cocktails, burning six home.
The village’s church was also attacked and ransacked. At least 15 people were injured, according to Al-Ahram.
The Beni Suef Security Directorate reportedly received notification that members Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya were involved in the clashes, an accusation the group denied, while condemning attacks on innocent residents and burning places of worship.
A reconciliation meeting between Christians and Muslims took place on Sunday in the village of Beni Ahmed in Minya. The terms of the reconciliation involved residents dropping charges filed against each other and the expulsion of anyone from the village who attempts to inflame the situation.
In comments made to state-owned Al-Ahram, Bishop Makarious, General Bishop of Minya, criticised the reconciliation, which did address compensation of approximately EGP 3.5m for damaged Christian property, asking where security and state institutions were to protect its citizens.
He also criticised the actions taken following the violence as focusing on overcoming the current situation and doing nothing to take necessary steps and precautions to prevent similar incidents from reoccurring.
The bishop said it was not “logical” for the Church to absorb the costs of the damages and losses, and that such matters should be the responsibility of the state.
The Maspero Youth Union (MYU) also rejected the reconciliation meeting and “any attempts to destroy the sovereignty of the state.”
“Such terms,” said the group regarding the outcome of the meeting in Minya, “represent the shame and disgrace over the heads of everyone who participated in this farce.”
The group also condemned the role of the security apparatus and even priests who took part in the reconciliation meeting in which they said they “accepted the waiver of applying the law, ignoring [compensation for] those affected…”
The Coptic rights group demanded an end to “so-called customary reconciliation sessions” and called on the state to apply the law fairly against perpetrators of violence.
“We wait for the judiciary to stand against those terrorist acts as he [they] stood against the injustice done to him [them],” said MYU.
Attacks on churches and Christians have increased since Mohamed Morsi’s ouster on 3 July across the country including Luxor, Sinai, Minya, Beni Suef, Sohag, and Port Said.
Police arrested a suspect accused of participating in a shooting at the Mar Girgis Church in Port Said last year, in which two were killed.
The Egyptian Socialist Party released a statement on Monday saying that the state should not tolerate “the practice of hatred, murder, and terrorism against Coptic citizens,” calling on the authorities to depart from its practice of complacency when dealing with such events and calling those who spread hatred against Copts “traitors.”
Earlier this month 16 human rights organisations called for Islamist groups to stop inciting violence against Christians and held the state responsible for their protection.
“It’s scary. We hear a lot of bad stories about what is happening around us. On the streets there are soldiers everywhere. We see smoke from fighting and hear bombings all the time.”
Those are the words of Youmna,* 13, a Christian girl who lives in Damascus, Syria, with her sister Nashita,* 10.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, approximately 100,000 people have been killed in the civil war between government forces and rebels. The death total includes 5,000 children under the age of 16. The conflict began on March 2011.
“One day I was going to school by bus when we heard a shooting nearby,” says Youmna. “So we all dived down, hiding under our seats, waiting until the shooting was over. Another day when we were at school there was an airplane very close by, threatening to bomb our school. We all had to go into the basement and stay away from the glass.”
“My classmates and I were all very scared. Kids around me were crying and shouting at the teachers because they were so afraid. Some called their fathers crying to them that they wanted to go home.”
Nashita says almost all her friends have left Syria. “My best friend Lunah* went to Egypt. I miss her so much. We talk on the phone, but it’s not the same.”
The United Nations office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict says it has received verified reports “that Syrian children are killed or injured in indiscriminate bombings, shot by snipers, used as human shields or victims of terror attacks.” The office reports boys as young as 10 are used by armed groups to work as combatants and porters.
Also, the United Nations reports 1.3 million Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring countries and 4.2 million persons are displaced inside the country, half of whom are children.
Youmna says she prays and remembers God’s words during the traumatic times:
“I memorize Bible verses and say them out loud when I’m afraid. One of the Psalms I say out loud in these moments is Psalm 91 that says: ‘He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ Saying these words makes me feel better.”
Nashita and Youmna ask for prayers for their country.
“Please pray for the kids in Syria….that God will stop the bad things that are happening. Pray for the kids that have no food and the kids that lost their houses because of the war. Pray that God will free Syria from this evil and that all the people can come back. And also pray for my friend Lunah, so we can play together again.”
Youmna requests for prayers for “the kids that have lost their parents. A lot of our friends have no fathers anymore because they have been killed in war.”
“Please heed the requests of Youmna and Nashita to pray for Syria, especially for the innocent victims such as the young children,” says Open Doors USA spokesman Jerry Dykstra.
“Not only do the children face the daily violence of civil war, but they are also the targets of persecution, including kidnapping, because they are Christians.”
Syria is ranked No. 11 on the Open Doors 2013 World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians.
* Names have been changed for security reasons.