By BosNewsLife Africa and Asia Services with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos at BosNewsLife News Center and BosNewsLife’s Xavier P. William in Peshawar
NAIROBI/PESHAWAR (BosNewsLife)– Christians in Africa and Asia tried to come to terms Friday, September 27, with the aftermath of attacks by Islamic militants that left at least some 150 people dead and hundreds injured, amid global concerns that devoted Christians are increasingly singled out by terrorists.
In Kenya’s capital Nairobi, Christians were praying and mourning as they remembered those who died after Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta declared an end to a four-day standoff with fighters of the the Somalia-based al-Shabab group at the Westgate Shopping Mall.
Shooting-and-grenades-throwing militants raided the mall Saturday, September 21, laughing and boosting on online social networking service Twitter that they especially targeted “Kaffars”, or non-Muslims, for execution.
The Adventist church in Nairobi was among the congregations impacted by the bloodshed. “The husband of an Adventist church member from Nairobi lost a relative during the terrorist attack in Nairobi’s Westgate Shopping Mall” in which more than 60 people were killed and over 170 injured, said the Adventist News Agency (APD).
It identified the victim as Harun Oyieke, a lecturer at Co-operative University College of Kenya, who was the husband of Florence Awino, a professor at the University of Nairobi.
Among those killed were South African, American, Ghanaian, French, Australian, British, Chinese, Dutch, Indian and Canadian nationals. Several members of the Kenyan police and military were also killed or wounded in the attack as they attempted to rescue hostages.
APD told BosNewsLife that Kenyans responded to the attack by donating blood for the victims and “sending messages of hope.”
The national blood bank had exceeded its annual average of 4,000 liters, and over 50 million Kenyan shilling ($600,000) was collected in two days. The Adventist Church in Kenya gave a check of 1 million shilling ($12,000), a relative large amount in this African nation, APD reported.
Vice President William Ruto reportedly said “Kenyans defeated evil by meeting it with kindness.”
World leaders, including United Nations Secretary General Ban-ki Moon and American President Barack Obama, condemned the attack and expressed condolences with those who lost relatives and friends.
“This is a time of shock for all Kenyans and all – including the UN family – who are proud to call Nairobi home,” Ban-ki Moon said in a statement. “I express my solidarity with them at this moment of grief and loss.”
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who lost his nephew and the nephew’s fiancee in the attack, condemned the terrorists, saying his government would not allow them to break the country’s unity along religious lines.
The attackers, who had been dropped off at the mall in three cars, overwhelmed security guards by shooting shoppers indiscriminately, reports said.
They besieged the mall and held scores of shoppers hostage as they exchanged fire with Kenyan police and the military for several days. Television footage pictures showed what Christians called “bewildered children” standing next to dead bodies and wounded shoppers in and outside the mall.
There were similar scenes thousands of miles away in the violence-plagued Pakistani city of Peshawar. Christians were seen searching for their loved ones, stumbling over the dead and injured, after twin suicide bomb attacks rocked the historic All Saints Church. As many as 85 people died and 140 others were injured, officials said.
Other Christians said the real death toll may be as high as 150 and hundreds injured, though that figure was not yet confirmed.
“We have recorded our protest to the media and ask the government of Pakistan to provide security to our Christian community here because we are not safe in Pakistan,” local evangelical Haseeb Masih told BosNewsLife.
“Our Christian people are dying in Pakistan. Lots of relatives of our congregation have died in the Pashawar bomb blasts. We are planing to reach-out to our community there to look-after them and to support them in this time of sorrow” over those they loved and who passed away, he added.
“It is really hard for us to be here in Pakistan, persecution is increasing everyday on the Christian community,” the evangelist explained.
Besides three days of protests, he said Christians had urged prayers for “peace in Pakistan, and prayers for the comfort of the families of Pashawar.”
Western churches were also impacted by the carnage, with the Church of Scotland saying one of its ministers in Scotland had lost his mother and other relatives in the Pakistan attack.
“This is a tragedy which has affected not only those in Pakistan but Pakistani people here in Scotland,” said the World Mission Council (WMC) of the Church of Scotland.
“All Saints [Church] is the family church of one of our Church of Scotland ministers, the Reverend Aftab Gohar, who has tragically lost his mother, a niece and a nephew in this attack. He has flown to Pakistan to be with his family,” the WMC added in comments monitored by BosNewsLife.
The WMC’s Convener, reverend Andrew McLellan, called the Pakistani and Kenyan attacks a “shock” for the Christian community, and his Church said it is praying for everyone caught up in the Pakistan and Kenya attacks.
“We are deeply saddened by the news from Pakistan of the bomb attack on All Saints Church in Peshawar which has claimed so many lives,” his Church said. “We are in contact with our partner, the Diocese of Peshawar and our thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been affected.”
Two Taliban-linked groups, Jandullah and the Junood ul-Hifsa, have claimed responsibility for the attack, believed to be the deadliest against Christians, who comprise less than three percent of the country’s population of 193 million people.
The groups say they ordered the attack in retaliation for U.S. drone strikes on terror targets in Pakistan. Yet, the attacks have underscored concerns of growing violence towards devoted Christians around the world.
“It is now open season on Christians,” commented Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.
“Attacks on Christians and other minorities in the Muslim-majority world are increasing and an already terrible situation is worsening,” he said in remarks on the Foxnews.com website.
“For the Taliban and like-minded groups, the key factor is religion. The connections they make are not national, or ethnic, or geographic, but religious. Hence, since they regard America as Christian, they kill Christians,” Marshall wrote.
He said that was also true for the recent attack in Kenya. “While the mall is reportedly Israeli-owned, and while Kenyan forces are at the core of the African Union forces fighting al-Shabab within Somalia, this was not an attack simply on Kenyans or westerners,” he noted.
“The attackers very specifically targeted non-Muslims and they identified them by asking their captives either to name Muhammad’s mother or to recite the shehada, the Muslim profession of faith. Those who could do so, Kenyan or not, were released; those who could not were killed…”
He suggested that the attacks in both Kenya and Pakistan are part of a global crackdown on Christians, citing al-Shabab’s announced a “systematic effort to kill every Christian Somali that they can, even those in Kenya, on the grounds that they are converts from Islam.”
He also mentioned attacks by Islamic militants on Christian minorities in Syria and Iraq, the “massive killings” in Nigeria and expressed particular concern about Christians in Egypt who have recently suffered “what my colleague Sam Tadros regards as the worst violence since 1321, under the Mamluks.”
In Egypt, on August 14-16 over a hundred Christian sites were attacked by followers of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, he noted, including 42 churches which “were utterly razed”.
In the south of Egypt, the town of Delga was occupied by Muslim Brotherhood supporters for 34 days and its Christian population “brutalized”, he said.
“The situation is so serious that English historian Tom Holland fears that we are now seeing the extinction of Christianity and other minority faiths from the Middle East.”
The influential commentator said politicians “are largely silent and, when there is expressed concern, it is nowadays more likely to come from Europe than from America.”
Even the Christian community is also largely silent on the widespread reported persecution, he complained.
“Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth has compared Christians’ fate with that of Jews in Europe, and, like many others in these days, quotes Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: ‘In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends’.”
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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