Thursday, January 07, 2016

Somalia: Catholics banned from holding religious celebrations as government seeks to avoid “provoking” jihadists

Thursday, January 7, 2016
There are no longer any priests left to celebrate mass in the country

After 24 years of civil war, the Somali government is unable to guarantee security and stop the violence of the Islamic Courts. A Somali policeman walks past a bar in Mogadishu that was gutted by a bomb.

Christmas for us, is mass, which we watch on television, in secret, and the comfort we get from some message or other that comes from abroad…”

Yusuf (the name is fictional), is a Catholic from Mogadishu. One of about 30 locals who has stayed behind in the Somali capital which has frequently been the scene of fundamentalist terror attacks.

This year, the government has forbidden Christmas and New Year celebrations but for the meagre number of “anonymous” Christians left, this has not changed their situation one bit: for years they have been lacking priests and have been unable to attend mass and receive the sacraments. 
Officially, they do not exist, as Christians. They were “banned” from celebrating Christmas and Easter even before the government’s latest announcement. There are no priests who can visit faithful and celebrate secretly with them in their homes, without attracting attention. 
Foreign missionaries cannot do this: it would mean putting their own lives at risk, not to mention the lives of those hosting them. And so, the religious identity of the few Christian families that have stayed behind remains secret, only the neighbours know.  “This year too, I returned to Mogadishu to celebrate the Christmas masses, but the celebrations took place inside the United Nations and African Union compound, near the airport,” Mgr. Giorgio Bertin, Bishop of Gibuti and apostolic administrator of Mogadishu, tells Italian newspaper La Stampa. 
“There, I celebrated one mass in Italian and English for Italian-European troops and civilians and another one in French and English for the group of soldiers from Burundi and Uganda. I wasn’t able to meet the few remaining Christians in the city. I managed to meet them during the 1990’s and celebrate mass for them. But since then it has not been possible.”  THE GOVERNMENT BAN  
According to Bishop Bertin, the announcement regarding the ban on Christian celebrations has the distinct feeling of an act of propaganda aimed at calming al-Shabaab fundamentalists, “but it also occurred to me that it could be a warning for Somalis living in Europe or the US, who come back to Somalia for the holidays: they may have got into the habit of exchanging Christmas gestures”. 
Bishop Bertin does not wish to disclose too much about the thirty or so Christians still living in Mogadishu. He admits they do exist and that he met them briefly in August 2013, at a hotel in the city, just before setting off for Gibuti. He keeps in touch with them by phone and e-mail. “The local population is not fanatically anti-Christian. What is lacking is a State that guarantees protection, order and respect for the law. Everything has been destroyed by 24 years of civil war.” 
The main concern harboured by Mogadishu’s “anonymous” Christians is not about freedom of worship but about survival. “They don’t have the sacraments, they watch some ceremonies on TV and take part in spiritual communion. But their families, like many others in the country, are in need of material aid. Jobs and food are lacking. The only action the Catholic Church is involved in in the country, is linked to Caritas. And naturally, we help everyone, no matter which ethnic or religious group they belong to.”  THE ISLAMIC COURTS  
After 2000, when the Islamic Courts were born, the last of the remaining missionaries had to leave the country. The last ones left after the death of Sister Leonella Sgorbati, a Consolata missionary who was killed in September 2006, in the days when tensions were running extremely high as a result of the manipulation of the words Benedict XVI pronounced in his Regensburg speech. 
The list of Italian missionaries and alay volunteers who were killed in the country is long: Mogadishu’s last resident bishop was Salvatore Colombo, who was murdered in 1989. Graziella Fumagalli and Annalena Tonelli were killed in Somalia in 1995 and 2003 respectively.  “We need to remain hopeful that the will of the majority of the population will prevail,” Bishop Bertin concluded. “The majority are not fundamentalists and have nothing to do with this political Islam that has been radicalised by al-Shabaab.” 
About a week ago, in Kenya, just a short distance from the Kenyan-Somali border, some Muslims who were travelling on a bus, stood up to a group of al-Shabaab terrorists, refusing to be separated from their fellow passengers who were Christians. In doing so, they managed to protect them, preventing a massacre. A small yet great sign of hope. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Hiiraan Online
Wednesday, December 23, 2015

MOGADISHU (HOL) – Somalia’s government has banned celebration of Christmas in the country, warning that holding the Christian festivities would threaten the country’s Muslim faith
The government banned the festivities several times in the past few years, with the security forces closed hotels and restaurant suspected to have been planning to host Christmas festivities. 
In a directive issued by the justice and religious affairs ministry Tuesday, the government has instructed security agencies to stay alert to courter any such celebrations.
“Those celebrations are not in any way related to Islam, its parts of another faith, a custom for another religion which has nothing to do with the Islamic faith.” said Sheikh Mohamed Kheyrow, the director of Somalia’s justice and religious affairs ministry.
In addition, Sheikh Nur Barud, one of Somalia’s leading religious leaders also warned that holding festivities besides the two Islamic Eids would amount to immorality, calling security forces to stop such festivities.
“Having Muslims celebrating for Christmas in Somalia is not the right thing, such things is akin to religion abandonment.” He said.
Christmas is an annual festival for Christians commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ and observed most commonly on December 25 as a religious and cultural celebration for Christians around the world.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

ISIS Video Purports to Show Killing of Ethiopian Christians

CAIRO — (New York Times) The Islamic State released a video on Sunday that appears to show fighters from affiliates in southern and eastern Libya executing dozens of Ethiopian Christians, some by beheading and others by shooting.

Prefaced by extensive speeches and interviews that appear to take place in the Islamic State’s strongholds in Syria and Iraq, the footage of the killings, if confirmed, would be the first evidence that the group’s leaders in those countries are coordinating with fighters who have taken up the group’s banner in those parts of Libya, compounding fears of its expansion across the Mediterranean.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, released a video in February that appeared to show masked fighters in its western Libyan branch, the so-called Tripolitanian province of the Islamic State, beheading a group of Egyptian Christians who had been abducted in the city of Surt. The group has now established control of Surt, and its fighters there are sporadically battling militia troops from the nearby city of Misurata.

The video released on Sunday appears to show Islamic State fighters in what it called “Fezzan province,” in the south, and “Barqa province,” in the east, carrying out executions according to the group’s trademark rituals.

Militants in Egypt, Algeria, Afghanistan, Nigeria and elsewhere have all pledged loyalty to the Islamic State and its self-declared caliphate, but Libya is the first country outside the group’s territory in Syria and Iraq where its core leadership has demonstrated practical communication and collaboration with its far-flung “provinces.”

If more confirmation of its authenticity emerges, the new video will upend both Western and Libyan views of the Islamic State’s presence in the country. Fighters in the three regions of Libya had previously claimed responsibility for various acts of violence carried out in the Islamic State’s name, but most analysts presumed that those claiming responsibility were probably independent locals trying to capitalize on the group’s fearsome reputation.

Now fighters in all three provinces appear connected enough to the core group’s leadership that they were able coordinate mass executions, film them independently and send the footage back to Syria or Iraq for production and release.

During the last five minutes of the half-hour video, the footage cuts back and forth between scenes in the southern desert and a beach along the coast, at one point displaying both with a split screen.

Masked fighters lead a row of bound captives dressed in black into the desert and then shoot each of the prisoners in the back of the head. Another group of masked fighters leads a row of prisoners in orange jumpsuits along a beach and then beheads each of them with a long knife, placing the severed heads on the bodies lying on the sand in bloody surf.

“You will not have safety even in your dreams, until you accept Islam,” declares a masked figure, speaking English with an American accent, pointing a revolver toward the camera. “Our battle is a battle between faith and blasphemy, between truth and falsehood.”

Of all the places the militants have used the group’s name, Libya may also be uniquely vulnerable to penetration because of the collapse of any central authority since the overthrow of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi four years ago.

Over the last nine months, its feuding militias and city-states have split into two main warring factions — one controlling the capital, Tripoli, and the other including the internationally recognized government that has fled to the eastern cities of Tobruk and Baida. Both factions have so far appeared more concerned with fighting each other than uniting to stop the Islamic State’s expansion.

What’s more, Libyan banks and homes still hold significant wealth. Vast oil deposits wait below ground, and the country’s long Mediterranean coast is a useful departure point to destinations in Europe or around the region.

It was not immediately possible to confirm that the victims executed in the video were in fact Ethiopians who had traveled to southern or eastern Libya, as the Islamic State’s narrators in the video suggested. Some of the Egyptian Christians killed by the Islamic State in western Libya were recognized in the earlier video by their families in Egypt as relatives who had been abducted in Surt, helping confirming the video’s authenticity.

Merna Thomas contributed reporting from Cairo.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Kenya attack survivor says gunmen had scouted the campus

GARISSA, Kenya (AP) — The Islamic extremists who slaughtered 148 people at a college in northeast Kenya as they shouted "God is great" appeared to have planned extensively, even targeting a site where Christians had gone to pray, survivors said Friday.

In the capital of Nairobi, relatives of the victims went to a morgue where some bodies had been airlifted from the campus of Garissa University College in eastern Kenya. Screaming and crying family members were assisted by Red Cross staffers, who tried to console them.
The attack was the worst in Kenya since the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy by al-Qaida that killed more than 200 people.
Thursday's assault in Garissa was carried out by militants of the Somalia-based extremist group al-Shabab. The organization has struck the country several times in recent years, but this attack was the deadliest.
Some Kenyans were angry that the government didn't take sufficient security precautions. The attack came six days after Britain advised "against all but essential travel" to parts of Kenya, including Garissa.
A day before the attack, President Uhuru Kenyatta dismissed that warning as well as an Australian one pertaining to Nairobi and Mombasa, saying: "Kenya is safe as any country in the world. The travel advisories being issued by our friends are not genuine."
Kenyatta would have been mindful that previous travel warnings have hurt the country's tourism industry.
One man posted a photo on Twitter showing about 100 bodies lying face-down on a blood-smeared courtyard with the comment: "Our inaction is betrayal to these Garissa victims"
Babu Owino, the chairman of the Students Organization for Nairobi University, said the government's behavior shows it is not serious in fighting extremist attacks.
John Njue, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Nairobi, who celebrated Good Friday services, cited the "murdered" students and said, "This is a tremendous challenge in our country."
Pope Francis on Friday condemned the attack as an act of "senseless brutality" and called for those responsible to change their violent ways. In a telegram of condolence, Francis also urged Kenyan authorities to work to bring an end to such attacks and "hasten the dawn of a new era of brotherhood, justice and peace."
Police on Friday were at the Garissa campus, taking fingerprints from the bodies of the four assailants and of the students and security officials who died, for identification purposes. The town lacks the facilities to store all the bodies.
Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery updated the number of people killed by the gunmen to 148. He said 142 of the dead were students, three were policemen and three were soldiers.
Nkaissery added that 104 people were wounded.
Survivor Helen Titus said one of the first things that the al-Shabab gunmen did when they entered the campus early Thursday was to head for a lecture hall where Christians were in prayer. Al-Shabab is a Somalia-based Islamic extremist group with ties to al-Qaida.
"They investigated our area. They knew everything," Titus told The Associated Press outside a hospital in Garissa where she was being treated for a bullet wound to the wrist.
Titus, a 21-year-old English literature student, said she smeared blood from classmates on her face and hair and lay still at one point in hopes the gunmen would think she was dead.
The gunmen also told students hiding in dormitories to come out, assuring them that they would not be killed, said Titus, who wore a patient's gown as she sat on a bench in the hospital yard.
"We just wondered whether to come out or not," she said. Many students did, whereupon the gunmen started shooting men, saying they would not kill "ladies," Titus said. But they also shot women and targeted Christians, said Titus, who is a Christian.
Esther Wanjiru said she was awake at the time of the attack. Asked if she lost anyone, she said: "My best friend."
Another survivor, Nina Kozel, said she was awakened by screaming and that many students escaped by sprinting to the fences and jumping over them. Some suffered bruises, she said. Many men were unable to escape, and hid in vain under beds and in closets in their rooms, according to Kozel.
"They were shot there and then," she said.
Those who surrendered were either selected for killing, or freed in some cases, apparently because they were Muslim, she said.
The killers shouted "God is great" in Arabic, she said.
Security forces stood guard Friday at the gate of the school. School slogans on the wall outside said "Oasis of Innovation" and "A World Class University of Technological Processes and Development."
Elsewhere in Garissa, soldiers blocked a group of women that approached a military-controlled site where students were awaiting evacuation, prompting several women to collapse, shrieking, in the dust for several minutes. A bystander said the son of one of the women had died in the attack.
A small group of male demonstrators walked down a main road in Garissa with signs that read "We are against the killing of innocent Kenyans!!!! We are tired!!" and "Enough is enough. No more killing!! We are with you, our fellow Kenyans."
"We feel very sorry for them and we condemn the attack," demonstrator Abdullahi Muktar said of the victims.
Some surviving students awaited evacuation to Nairobi by plane from a nearby airstrip.
The masked attackers — strapped with explosives and armed with AK-47s — took dozens of hostages in a dormitory as they battled troops and police before the violence ended after about 13 hours, witnesses said.
Al-Shabab spokesman Ali Mohamud Rage said the group was responsible for the attack. Al-Shabab has carried out numerous attacks in Kenya, including the siege at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in 2013 that killed 67 people, to retaliate against Kenya for sending troops to Somalia in 2011 to fight the militants and stabilize the government in Mogadishu.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud called for stronger collaboration between his country and Kenya to defeat al-Shabab.
Odula reported from Nairobi, Kenya. Abdi Guled in Mogadishu, Somalia, contributed to this report.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

'Not Forgotten': The Top 50 Countries Where It's Most Difficult To Be A Christian

INTERNATIONAL; RELIGIOUS FREEDOM; RESEARCH'Not Forgotten': The Top 50 Countries Where It's Most Difficult To Be A ChristianOpen Doors says 2014 saw the worst persecution of Christians in the 'modern era'—but not because of violence.

'Not Forgotten': The Top 50 Countries Where It's Most Difficult To Be A ChristianCOURTESY OF OPEN DOORS
New research reveals one more reason to remember 2014: for the greatest number of religious freedom violations against Christians worldwide in recent memory—even in Christian-majority countries. Of the worst 50 nations, 4 out of 5 share the same primary cause. And, while the number of martyrdoms did double from 2013, the main driver of persecution in 2014 wasn't violence.
Open Doors released today its latest World Watch List (WWL). The annual list ranks the top 50 countries "where Christians face the most persecution," aiming to create "effective anger" on believers' behalf.
“This year, the threshold was higher for a country to make the list, indicating that worldwide levels of persecution have increased,” stated Open Doors in announcing its analysis of the "significant trends" in 2014 that drove persecution higher worldwide, "even in places where it has not been reported in the past."
So while countries such as Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) fell significantly in rank on this year's watch list (Sri Lanka dropped 15 spots to No. 44, and the UAE dropped 14 spots to No. 49), their level of persecution dropped only slightly from last year's list (by four points and two points, respectively, on a 100-point scale). And while three countries—Bahrain, Morocco, and Niger—were removed from the list this year, the level of persecution in each remained virtually the same from 2013 to 2014.
Overall in 2014, pressure on Christians increased in 29 countries, decreased in 11, and remained stable in 7. Three countries—Mexico, Turkey, and Azerbaijan—were added to the watch list this year. [See infographic below.]
Open Doors researchers measure persecution by “the degree of freedom a Christian has to live out his or her faith in five spheres of life (private, family, community, national, and church life),” as well as by tallying acts of violence.
Researchers calculate that 4,344 Christians were "killed for faith-related reasons" in 2014, which is "more than double the 2,123 killed in 2013, and more than triple the 1,201 killed the year before that," reports World Watch Monitor (WWM). (Measuring martyrdoms has drawn debate in recent years, and Open Doors is usually on the conservative end of estimates.) By far the largest number of deaths occurred in Nigeria, where 2,484 Christians were killed; the next deadliest country for Christians was the Central African Republic (CAR), with 1,088 deaths. The remaining three deadliest countries were Syria (271 deaths), Kenya (119 deaths), and North Korea (100 deaths).
In addition, 1,062 churches were "attacked for faith-related reasons" in 2014. The majority of attacks took place in five countries: China (258 churches), Vietnam (116 churches), Nigeria (108 churches), Syria (107 churches), and the Central African Republic (100 churches). Last year's highest-profile incident: a government campaign to “de-Christianize” the skyline of one of China’s most Christian cities. (The Pew Research Center also recently tallied the countries with the most government destruction of religious property.)
But it wasn’t increased violence that primarily drove persecution to record levels in 2014, but rather increased “cultural marginalization,” according to Open Doors. In other words, the "more subtle 'squeeze' dimensions of persecution" which make "daily life ... harder and harder" for Christians. A substantial study by the Pew Research Center found that nearly 75 percent of the world’s population now lives in countries with high levels of social hostility involving religion. [CT compared how both groups rank the world's worst persecutors.]
“Even Christian-majority states are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination, and violence,” said David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA. “The 2015 World Watch List reveals that a staggering number of Christians are becoming victims of intolerance and violence because of their faith. They are being forced to be more secretive about their faith.”
One of those Christian-majority countries is Kenya, which made the biggest leap on the list—from No. 43 on last year’s list to No. 19—even though about 83 percent of Kenyans are Christians. A rash of religious violence over the summer spiked tensions and left 100 dead.
And in Nigeria, where approximately half the population is Christian, murders and kidnappings by the militant group Boko Haram (most notably of 165 Christian schoolgirls) helped the West African nation reach the top 10 for the first time, rising from No. 14 last year to No. 10 this year. (CT noted how Boko Haram's terrorism is changing Nigeria’s churches.)
African countries saw the largest increase in persecution in 2014. Along with Kenya in the 2015 report, Mali and the Central African Republic saw the highest increases in persecution in the 2013 and 2014 reports, respectively. This year, Djibouti, Tanzania, Somalia, and Comoros all rose more than seven spots on the list. “Many other countries in this region are boiling below the top 50 also, and may feature in the future,” noted Open Doors.
The primary culprit in Africa and worldwide: “Islamic extremism,” which was the "main persecution engine" in 40 of the 50 countries on the 2015 watch list, including 18 of the top 20 countries (only 6 of which are in the Middle East).
The No. 2 driver of persecution was "dictatorial paranoia," or "where leaders seek to control religious expression," noted Open Doors. "It is the main persecution engine in 10 countries, including North Korea, and shows up as a secondary persecution engine in 16 more countries."
And while "organized corruption"' is the main driver of persecution in only Colombia and Mexico, it is No. 3 (after "Islamic extremism" and "dictatorial paranoia") "when its status as a secondary engine is taken into account," noted Open Doors. "Christians increasingly have to pay a heavy economic price to remain faithful to Christ."
Overall, persecution increased more rapidly in Sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else in the world, according to Open Doors. Djibouti moved from No. 46 in 2014 to No. 24 this year—the second-biggest leap after Kenya. Tanzania jumped 16 spots to No. 33, and the island nation of Comoros rose 10 spots to No. 32. Eritrea rose from No. 12 to No. 9, and Sudan—where Meriam Ibrahim was imprisoned and sentenced to death for her faith, but was later released and gained asylum in the United States—rose from No. 11 to No. 6.
The top five rankings remained virtually the same as last year, with North Korea at No. 1, followed by Somalia, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. The "biggest surprise" of the year: Malaysia, especially the fight over Allah Bibles.
Three of the top five countries are in the Middle East, where targeted attacks have emptied many regions of Christians, reports Open Doors. Many fled from the advance of the Islamic State in 2014; in fact, more than 70 percent of Christians have left Iraq since 2003, and more than 700,000 Christians have fled from Syria since 2011, according to Open Doors. Only a remnant remain.
Holding steady for the 13th year as the worst place for Christians to live is North Korea, where Open Doors reports up to 70,000 Christians are held in prison camps for their faith. The country garnered media attention in 2014 with the November release of American missionary Kenneth Bae after two years in prison, the detainment of American Jeffrey Fowles for leaving behind a Bible, and the arrestand release of 75-year-old Australian missionary John Short. (South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jong-Uk is still imprisoned after receiving a life sentence in June for allegedly working with underground churches.)
Overall in Asia, Open Doors had been "reporting improving conditions for Christians in the Far East in recent years," noted WWM, but "the trend reversed course in 2014, when every country on the list but Laos and Sri Lanka received a higher persecution score. China, India and Malaysia registered the largest increases. Twelve countries from East Asia and the Far East are among the top 50."
Persecution in India, which rose to its highest ranking ever (No. 21), has ramped up since Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist and the only politician ever banned from the US for religious freedom violations, was elected as prime minister in May. Modi’s silence on the more than 600 attacks on non-Hindus that occurred during his first 100 days in office, as well as conversion efforts like the planned Christmas reconversion of 5,000 Christians and Muslims to Hinduism, have been controversial enough to stymie India’s parliament.
“The goal of the World Watch List is to keep Christian persecution on the radar of those enjoying the privileges of freedom,” said Curry. “The perpetrators of persecution need to know that the world is watching and stands in opposition to persecution. And for the persecuted, we want them to know that they are not forgotten.”
And Open Doors did identify some "good news trends" amid the dark headlines:
  • "Ancient enmities between Christians in the Middle East are slowly dissolving in the white heat of violence and persecution."
  • "New co-operative relationships are being forged between Muslim and Christian in the Middle East caldron that could have wonderful long term benefits."
  • "China is still undecided about how to deal with the church. ... If Christianity can sound, look and be Chinese enough, we might just see the church continuing to be invited to play a fuller role in the building of the new China."
  • Western governments are engaging with religious communities in working against extremists like never before."
“There is in many government departments (though not all) a new sophistication in realizing that good religion has the best chance of driving out bad religion,” wrote Ron Boyd-McMillan, Open Doors' research director. “At the very least, there is a new openness and thirst for the information and wisdom of Christians working in these regions among those who are tasked with ensuring national security. That has not happened before to the extent it has in 2014.”
Boyd-McMillan noted: "As Li Tien En, a famous house church Christian in China used to say, 'Persecution is two parts opportunity, one part crisis—God always brings opportunities out of a crisis.' There is a new unity occurring among ancient communities of faith, and we may see again that an exodus is not always bad for the spread of the Gospel."
WWM offers a detailed report on the 2015 World Watch List, as well as a trend analysis, the complete scores of each country, further details on the top 20 countries and the remaining 30, and an examination of religious violence.
CT reported last year's World Watch List (which revealed the methodology behind the rankings for the first time), which found that persecution in 2013 increased in 34 countries, decreased in 5, and remained stable in 14. CT examined the WWL rankings in 20092012, and 2013, including a spotlight on where it's hardest to believe, and charted how Open Doors and Pew Research Center rankings compare.
CT also noted how the State Department and USCIRF disagree on which countries deserves censure for mistreating religious minorities. The State Department’s list of “countries of particular concern” includes: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan. In April 2014, USCIRF recommended the addition of Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Pastor in Kenya Fears His Life Is in Imminent Danger from Islamic Extremists

Convert of Somali descent says Al Shabaab has put bounty on his head.

Somali Al Shabaab rebels have offered a reward to anyone who kills the Rev. Mahad H. Birik, and after a video of him describing his conversion from Islam seeped into major Somali broadcast, Web and print media two months ago, the pastor of an undisclosed church on the outskirts of Nairobi said longstanding threats on his life became concrete this month.
“My family is now living in a sleepless state,” said the father of two children – one age 15 from a wife who was taken from him when he left Islam, and a 2-year-old from remarriage. “My life and that of my family is in imminent danger. It is very serious and real, as Muslim extremists are strategizing on having my head.”
On Sunday (Dec. 14) Somali men unknown to him followed Birik and his wife to their church. A security guard stopped the men, asking them who they were and what they wanted, and they left. Birik said police identified their car as registered to Kamau Kamotho, whom officers have long sought on suspicion of being a hit-man for hire.
After several masked men hovered near his house one night early this year, he relocated his family to another area of Nairobi. On Dec. 4, masked men showed up at about 7:30 a.m. at their new residence, located in a compound where around two dozen other families live. They arrived in a car with tinted windows, he said.
“One of them came out of the car and started asking whether a Somali pastor was still inside the compound,” Birik said. “The watchman became suspicion as it was very early in the morning. He was able to see through the lowered window, where the driver of the car came out from, and saw two masked men, and then he raised an alarm by whistling.”
A second person got out of the car, and the watchman retreated backwards, he said; residents rushed to the scene, and the suspicious figures got back into the car and drove away.
Al Shabaab, an Islamic extremist insurgent group in Somalia, announced through Kenyan and Somali media and over mosque loudspeakers in 2009 that they would pay a large sum of money for Birik’s head, he said.
“The Al Shabaab have a sophisticated network,” said Birik, who also works for a relief agency. “I do not know when they will hit me; I am sure I can no longer hide myself. I therefore want the Christian world as well as human rights groups to know that my life is in danger, and I need urgent rescue.”
Video of Birik’s testimony had circulated on the Web prior to the latest version, which was recorded by a U.S. church volunteer this year and posted on the church website; the church had partnered in Nairobi with a foreign-based ministry to help produce audio recordings of the Bible in the Somali language. Telling the church volunteer his testimony was already available online, Birik had granted the church permission to disseminate the recording of his conversion story, a source said.
Birik said many in the underground network of Somali Christians in Kenya have sent him text messages saying his life is in danger and to be careful of his movements; “You are not safe at all,” one read.
On Dec. 8, a vehicle hit him and sent him caroming into a ditch, but he sustained only minor injuries. Birik said police later located the car, but the owner said it had been on a road test and the driver had not deliberately hit him.
At the end of November, Birik reported to police that Al Shabaab planned to execute him.
“I now have to put on a cap to hide my identity,” Birik said.
On Dec. 7, two Somali women that Birik believes were connected to Al Shabaab began following him. He told Morning Star News that one of them said in the Somali language, “This man is now an enemy of Islam. He used to be an imam. We should finish him off.”
Birik responded, “I am a Somali man; I have heard what you have said. You cannot harm me. Go back,” and immediately they began to run away, one of them falling down and another slipping into mud, he said. Coincidentally, police in the predominantly Somali area of Eastleigh in Nairobi on Dec. 12 arrested eight Somali women on suspicion of being agents of Al Shabaab.
On Dec.1, after two of Birik’s Somali relatives argued with him over his conversion to Christianity, one of them said, “I wish I could get an opportunity to kill this infidel – just hit him right in his face,” and the ensuing fight between the relative and the pastor resulted in police seeking to arrest them. Officers granted their request to settle the matter outside court, but later the case was registered at Administrative Police Camp at Dagoreti Corner.
The other relative, more sympathetic to Birik, told him that he needs to be careful and to watch his movements, Birik said.
Birik is not a stranger to persecution. Raised in northern Kenya to parents from Somalia, the neighboring country where leaving Islam is punishable by death, upon conversion his family disowned him and took all his property. They also took his wife from him and married her off to another man; the divorce became final in 2004.
“This was a big loss to me, and it took several years for me to recover,” he said.
In 2008 Somali Muslims beat him outside Nairobi for leaving Islam, breaking both his hands, he said, and in 2009 another Islamist gang confronted him and broke his right hand.
“They hit me with blunt objects, with several kicks and blows, and my hand got broken,” he said. “Now it is difficult to use it in doing heavy tasks.”
Birik said he is also in danger of losing his job with a relief organization.
“My employer is considering dismissing me, because my profile, which has been aired in all the Somali televisions and daily papers, will put their operation and lives of visiting staff in danger,” he said. “This organization has had bad experiences in the past, and it will not take chances once again.”
Since the Al Shabaab offer of a bounty to kill him, he has not been able to return to his home town of Wajir in northern Kenya, Birik said. He said the denomination that ordained him has not been responsive, and that he does not have the estimated $1,500 needed to relocate his family to another part of Kenya.
“I am sure if I am not rescued soon, then they will get rid of me,” he said. “It only a matter of when.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Stay or Leave, Somali Christians in Kenyan Refugee Camps Face Danger

Stay or Leave, Somali Christians in Kenyan Refugee Camps Face Danger

Islamic extremist threat reigns whether they remain or are repatriated.
By Our East Africa Correspondent
NAIROBIKenya, August 1, 2014 (Morning Star News) – The Somali convert from Islam and his wife were holding each other under their bed in a Kenyan refugee camp as gunmen outside their door threatened to shoot.
Abukar Mohammed (surname withheld for security reasons), 36, suspected members of Somalia’s Islamic extremist Al Shabaab insurgency who lived in the camp near Dadaab were the ones pounding on the door and demanding he open it the night of April 27. The door was made of wooden poles, and the assailants could see through the gaps between them.
“Come out the door or we will kill you,” one of the assailants said.
“Who are you?” said Abukar, who became a Christian 19 years ago in one of the Dadaab refugee camps some 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Somali border. “We are not opening the door.”
The attackers called him the Arabic and Somali words for infidel, “Kafir,” and “Gaal” respectively, then said, “We need your head.”
 “The killers started shooting at us through the spaces between the poles and hit us on the legs,” Abukar told Morning Star News. “As were lying in great pain, I heard the attackers saying, ‘We have killed the infidels’ as they shot into the air while leaving.”
The couple was later found inside their home in a pool of blood. Two days later they were flown to Nairobi’s Kenyatta National Hospital, where they were treated for two months. They continued treatment at a rehabilitation center on the outskirts of Nairobi, but they are still nursing their injuries, and Abukar’s wife, still in great pain, must use a walking stick.
Abukar, who took on the nickname Ali after his conversion to Christ became known in the predominantly Somali Muslim refugee camp, recalled that the assailants spoke to neighbors outside his home before the assault, asking, “Is this the house of Ali, the Gaal?”
The Muslim operators of the camp could hardly be relied upon for security; indeed, Abukar said Kenyan security personnel assisted the gunmen in the assault.
The experience of this Christian couple – Abukar's wife also a Somali convert from Islam – is just one example of dangers facing Christians in the Dadaab refugee camps, where an office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is based. Kenyan officials are increasingly trying to repatriate refugees to Somalia, where the threat of Al Shabaab violence awaits them. The Islamic extremist insurgents have vowed to rid Somalia of its underground Christians.
Abukar is one of many refugees who have spent a large part of their lives in the camps – a generation has known no other existence – and in that time concealing his faith became more difficult. He gained popularity as a distributor of food, some of it from a Christian aid organization, to underground Christian families for six months; he associated with an Ethiopian Christian; and he attended a fellowship run by Christian police in the camp.
He had come to Christ in the camp in 1995 under the influence of Canadian Baptist church workers; his wife (name withheld) converted to Christ in the camp in 2006. Childless, she suffered her third miscarriage while being treated for her wounds from the shooting, she said.
The two said they are in desperate need of help.
“We need medicine and food,” Abukar said. “We thank some few Kenyan Christians who once in a while come and see us.”
Another Somali convert from Islam, 48-year-old Abdikadir (surname withheld), saw Muslim relatives and other Somalis burn his home down in one of the undisclosed Dadaab refugee camps in April. He told Morning Star News that they took away his wife and four children in the course of destroying his home.
Like Abukar and his wife, Abdikadir is also a UNHCR-designated refugee; he managed to escape the attack in the camp and is now in hiding elsewhere. He came to Christ while still living in Somalia, and in Kenya his boldness in proclaiming Christ landed him in a Khadi (Islamic) civil court in Garissa under a charge of leaving Islam on March 22, 2013, he said.
“I could not deny my faith in Christ,” he said. “I stood firm with my conviction that Jesus is my Lord and Savior,” he said.
He escaped retribution, but he and other Somali underground Christians in Kenya live in constant fear of Kenya’s repatriation efforts.
“We appeal to the churches in Kenya to protect us and speak of our situation, lest we are taken back to Somalia only to be killed as we try to provide for our basic needs,” he said. “We also appeal to international community to give us asylum abroad.”

Somali Widow's Life in Danger in Kenya after Reporting Assault to Police

Somali Widow's Life in Danger in Kenya after Reporting Assault to Police
Muslim elders warn Christian mother to drop case.
By Our East Africa Correspondent
NAIROBI, Kenya, August 7, 2014 (Morning Star News) – Islamic extremists from Somalia, upset that a Christian widow would not send her children to a Muslim school, attacked her and seek to kill her because she reported the assault to police, community members said.
Hadiya Ali (surname withheld), 51, said she has had to move house before in the face of violence from her Somali countrymen; two of her adult sons were beaten unconscious as “apostates” in separate assaults by Somali Muslims in Nairobi in 2011. Now she listens to her children implore her to move the family again.
“Please Mum, get us a house elsewhere lest we are killed here,” her 16-year-old daughter tells her.
Having fled Somalia more than 10 years ago after the death of her husband, Hadiya still has six school-age children – two from remarriage, though her second husband recanted his Christian faith amid a wave of persecution and returned to Somalia in 2010 – and they live in fear. No fewer than 10 Islamic elders visited her to warn that she was risking her life by filing a case on the attack. After the assailants were released on bail, a neighbor pleaded with her to tell police that her life was in danger.
Hadiya returned home from a market in the Bulbul area north of Nairobi on the evening of June 28 to find eight Somali Muslims outside her house. One of them, she noticed, was a former neighbor from an area she had left three months before because Muslim neighbors had been questioning her children about her whereabouts when she left for church. Unlike many Somali immigrants who meet in secret fellowships because they are considered Muslim for having been born in Somalia and therefore are now “apostates,” Hadiya openly attends a large undisclosed church in Nairobi.
After she entered her house, her 16-year-old daughter (name withheld) told her that the group outside – three men and five women – appeared to be armed. Hadiya immediately locked the doors; during the recent Islamic ceremonial month of Ramadan, Muslims in the area had pressured her to take her children to a madrassa (Islamic school).
The neighbor from her previous home where she had lived for three years, identified only as Mohammed, and a sheikh (Islamic teacher) had offered to sponsor two of her children, ages 10 and 6, so that they could attend the Islamic school, Hadiya told Morning Star News. They pressured her to buy the children clothes that met the Islamic dress code, she said.
Two days later, the Islamic teacher arrived for a follow-up visit with Hadiya. She refused to comply with the sheikh’s demand, and she said he angrily accused her of “ruining the children.” Hadiya told him that she had not requested any sponsorship for her children to attend the Islamic school.
Shortly after she entered her house the evening of June 28, the group knocked on the door. Hadiya told them it was late in the evening and that they meet in the morning. The group grew furious, broke through the door and forced their way inside, she said.
 “I hid myself under the bed as two women got into my bedroom and pulled me out, dragging me on the floor to the sitting room,” Hadiya said. “Mohammed strangled me, while one lady knifed me on my left leg near the foot, while another [Mohammed] hit me in my stomach. My daughter tried to rescue me but was overpowered and injured her hand during the struggle.”
Hadiya fell down unconscious and bleeding near the door, her daughter said, adding, “I screamed for help, and neighbors arrived to rescue us.”
Once outside, the daughter said, the assailants began shouting, saying, “You are ruining the children, making them kafir [infidel]. We will burn this kafir. The sign of the cross has been stamped on her buttocks. This kafir has been converting our Muslim women to Christianity. You have been following this bad religion for many years, but still you are very poor.”
The assailants lingered outside the house for two hours, discussing how to kill Hadiya and her children, Hadiya said. Her daughter called a family friend, a lecturer at Africa International University (name undisclosed for security reasons) to help them leave the place. At 1 a.m., the friend arrived.
She took Hadiya to a nearby medical clinic, and later into her home. The following day Hadiya recorded a statement at Bulbul police station. The police started looking for the attackers and arrested three suspects: Mohammed and two others identified only as Fatima and Halima. The others had absconded.
The area chief and Muslim elders were said to have provided bail of US$200 for the release of the three attackers.
The friend told Morning Star News she provided accommodation for Hadiya and her family for a week, taking care of their basic needs for shelter, food and medication. When Hadiya returned home, she learned that the assailants had been released. She went back to the police station to complain, she said.
When she returned home from the station, 10 Muslim elders arrived. They warned her that she should drop the case or she would be risking her life, she said.
“Since then, things have been very difficult for me,” Hadiya said. “I feel a lot of pain in my stomach. The doctors are suspecting that my spleen might have been affected. I sometimes faint. A scan is needed.”
A neighbor (name undisclosed for security reasons) recently visited the family and informed them that hard-line Muslims were planning to kill her.
“Muslims will kill you, please go to the police station and report that your life is in danger,” the neighbor told Hadiya.
Hadiya appeared traumatized as she spoke of her ordeal.