One community in Punjab Province faces threat from grenade, another from bulldozer.
SARGODHA, Pakistan, July 13 (CDN) — Christian communities in two areas came under attack in Punjab Province earlier this month.
In Sargodha, an unidentified motorcyclist on July 1 tossed a grenade in front of the gates of St. Filian’s Church of Pakistan, next to a small Christian-owned amusement park where children were playing, Christian sources said.
One of the owners of the playground, Shehzad Masih, said the hand-made grenade was thrown just before 9 p.m., when hot summer weather had cooled and the park was crammed with parents and their children. It did not explode.
Masih said children told him that after throwing the grenade, the motorcyclist sped away, disappearing into the traffic of University Road in Sargodha, a major street where government offices are located. Masih said police confirmed that it was an explosive device that did not go off.
The Rev. Pervez Iqbal of St. Filian’s said the Bomb Disposal Squad and New Satellite Town police took the grenade away. High-ranking police officials cordoned off the area, declaring a “High Red Alert” in Sargodha, he added. He and Masih said the whole area was evacuated.
“By the grace of God, that hand grenade did not go off, and there was no loss of life or property despite the fact that the alleged militant made his best efforts to throw it close to the entrance of the church, possibly inside the church,” Iqbal said.
A retired member of the army who now serves as a clergyman told Compass that a standard hand grenade normally has eight ounces of explosive material capable of killing within 30 to 50 yards.
“Nowadays Muslim militants are able to make their own hand-made grenades,” he said on condition of anonymity, adding that the explosive content in the undetonated grenade has not been revealed.
Area Christians said the attempted attack comes after many Christian clergymen and heads of Christian organizations received threatening letters from Islamic militants.
In spite of the incident, the following Sunday service took place at its usual time.
Iqbal told Compass that police have taken no special measures to protect the church building since the attempted attack, though a police patrol vehicle is stationed outside the church gate.
“This is the only measure taken by the police to beef up security at the church,” he said.
At a small village near Sheikhupura, Punjab Province, a church building and Christian homes came under threat of demolition on July 5. Islamic extremists issued threats as, accompanied by local police, they intended to demolish the Apostolic Church Pakistan structure in Lahorianwali, Narang Mandi, with a bulldozer, area Christians said.
Assistant Sub-Inspector Rana Rauf led Narang Mandi police and the extremists in an attempted demolition that was averted with the intervention of Christian leaders who called in district police.
The attempted assault followed the arrest on July 1 of local influential Muslim Muhammad Zulfiqar, who had forcibly stopped renovation of a church wall on that day; he was released the same day.
“Rana Rauf disdainfully used derogatory remarks against Christians, calling them ‘Gadha [donkey],’ and said they go astray unless a whip is used to beat them and show them the straight path,” said Yousaf Masih, a Christian who also had been arrested and released on July 1, when Rauf, Zulfiqar and the extremists stopped the renovation work.
Another area Christian, Zulfiqar Gill, told Compass that the Islamic extremists threatened the Christians in the July 5 incident.
“They said that if we ever tried to rebuild the walls or renovate the frail Apostolic Church building, they would create a scene here like Gojra,” said Gill. On Aug. 1, 2009, Islamic assailants acting on a false rumor of blaspheming the Quran and whipped into frenzy by local imams attacked a Christian colony in Gojra, burning at least seven Christians to death, injuring 19 others, looting more than 100 houses and setting fire to 50 of them. The dead included women and children.
Khalid Gill of the Christian Lawyers’ Foundation said Zulfiqar has tried to illegally obtain the church property and attacked the structure twice previously in the past two years. Younas Masih said Zulfiqar demolished one of the church walls on Oct. 8, 2008, and local Christian Akber Masih said Zulfiqar set aflame the tents and decorations of a Christmas Service at the Apostolic Church Pakistan in 2009.
In each case, Christians filed charges against Zulfiqar, but because of his wealth and influence he was never arrested, area Christians said.
A Deputy District Officer Revenue report states that Zulfiqar has illegally occupied land and wishes to seize the church property and the house of an assistant pastor. Zulfiqar has already demolished the house of the assistant pastor, Waris Masih, according to the report.
Lahorianwali is a predominantly Islamic village of more than 350 Muslim families and only 36 Christian families, sources said.
Report from Compass Direct News
Copt leaving sanctuary knifed in Minya; bomb explodes near venerable structure in Cairo.
ISTANBUL, May 22 (Compass Direct News) – In separate attacks in Egypt earlier this month, a Coptic Christian suffered severe stab wounds as he left a worship service in Minya, and a car-bombing outside a venerable church in Cairo disrupted a wedding.
Without provocation, three Muslims repeatedly stabbed Coptic Christian Girgis Yousry, 21, as the army conscript was leaving the gates of the church of Saint Mary in Minya, Upper Egypt on May 2, according to Copts United.
The assault left him with severe injuries to internal organs, and he was taken to the district hospital, where he was still receiving treatment at press time.
When Yousry’s father went to the police station to report the attack, the Intelligence Services officer in charge threw him out of the station. Three men implicated in the stabbing, Wael Mohammed Hagag, Mohammed Nasr Anwar and Shabaan Sayed Amin, were arrested on May 5 and have been given a 16-day initial incarceration while the investigation is underway.
All three men stand accused of attempted murder without premeditation, which carries a sentence of five to 15 years.
But Mamdouh Nakhla, president of the Al-Kalema Centre for Human Rights, said he thinks it unlikely that they will be convicted.
“From my experience over the last 15 years, in Minya in particular, all cases of attacks and murder against Christians either went without punishment and [the accused] were totally exonerated, or they were given suspended sentences,” he said.
Home to Egypt’s largest community of Copts (approximately 4 million), Minya is considered a hotbed of anti-Christian violence.
“I am aware of severe injustices happening to Christians who are being incarcerated for no reason,” said Nakhla. “This is my experience of Minya.”
Local sources told Compass that in the last few months there has been a wave of arrests of Christians who are held with no official charges. Sources spoke of cases where detainees are held for months in prison, where they are badly beaten and tortured.
“Police brutality is a widely practiced policy,” said one source, “especially in rural areas, group punishment and systematic intimidation and humiliation are expected practices against all citizens, Christians included.”
This month Compass learned of three illegal arrests of Christians that have taken place since November 2008. Two of the men who were detained have since been released.
“When people are released, they have been beaten and electrocuted so that they are hardly standing up,” said a local Christian.
Local church leaders believe recent pressure is a response to rumors of an increase in Christian converts in Egypt due to Christian satellite programming, although arrests go beyond converts to Coptic-born Christians.
In Cairo, a makeshift bomb placed under a car exploded outside a renowned Catholic church building in Zeitoun district on May 9, incinerating the vehicle but causing no injuries.
Panicked passersby called police when the small explosion caused the car to burst into flames outside Saint Mary Church, which Egypt’s Coptic community, citing numerous sightings of the Virgin Mary there in the late 1960s, considers a holy site.
Security forces arrived at the scene within minutes and sealed off the area. They found a second bomb, also planted beneath a car. Unable to disarm it, they were forced to detonate it in a controlled fashion, sources told Compass.
The explosion interrupted a wedding and a Bible study that were taking place inside the revered, historic building. Those in attendance were evacuated through a side gate as a precaution, reported Egyptian newspaper Watani. Boutros Gayed, the church’s priest, was unavailable for comment.
The bombs were rudimentary. Cell phones were used as detonators and placed with the explosive material into a bag containing shrapnel.
Police have yet to release information about possible suspects or motives, but newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm has stated security forces are investigating possible links to a Hezbollah cell, which uses similar explosive devices.
A spokesman for Hezbollah has denied its involvement, stating that the cell was focused on supporting Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and has never had plans to carry out operations in Egypt.
The head of the Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda, condemned the attack as criminal and pointed to sectarian motives.
“[The bombers] are attempting to tamper with the future of this homeland that they do not deserve to belong to,” he said, according to Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram.
Similarities between this event and an explosion in February outside Al-Hussain Mosque, where one person was killed and 24 others wounded, have led to speculation that the attacks may be part of an attempt to inflame sectarian tensions.
Rumors also have been spread that “extremist Coptic groups” may have planted the devices in order to attract U.S. President Barack Obama’s attention to their plight on his planned June 4 visit to Cairo.
“This sounds like a ridiculous suggestion, because the Copts do not even respond to attacks against them,” said Ibrahim Habib, chairman of United Copts of Great Britain. “It is not in their agenda, and they have no precedence of violence.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Pastor threatened with death, historic Methodist sanctuary ransacked, during Holy Week.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, April 16 (Compass Direct News) – Buddhist mobs attacked several churches in Sri Lanka last week, threatening to kill a pastor in the southern province of Hambanthota and ransacking a 150-year-old Methodist church building in the capital.
On April 8, four Buddhist extremists approached the home of pastor Pradeep Kumara in Weeraketiya, Hambanthota district, calling for him to come out and threatening to kill him. The pastor said his wife, at home alone with their two children, phoned him immediately but by the time he returned, the men had left.
Half an hour later, Kumar said, the leader of the group phoned him and again threatened to kill him if he did not leave the village by the following morning. Later that night the group leader returned to the house and ordered the pastor to come out, shouting, “I didn’t bring my gun tonight because if I had it with me, I would use it!”
“My children were frightened,” Kumara said. “I tried to reason with him to go away, but he continued to bang on the door and threaten us.”
Police soon arrived on the scene and arrested the instigator but released him the following day.
Subsequently the attacker gathered Buddhist monks and other villagers together and asked them to sign a petition against the church, Kumar said. Protestors then warned the pastor’s landlord that they would destroy the house if he did not evict the pastor’s family by the end of the month.
Fearing violence, Kumara said he canceled Good Friday and Easter Sunday services and evacuated his children to a safer location.
Methodist Building Ransacked
Earlier, on Palm Sunday (April 5), another group of men broke into the 150-year-old Pepiliyana Methodist Church in Colombo after congregants concluded an Easter procession.
The gang entered through the back door and windows of the building late that night; witnesses said they saw them load goods into a white van parked outside the church early the next morning.
“They removed everything, including valuable musical instruments, a computer, Bibles, hymn books and all the church records,” said the Rev. Surangika Fernando.
The church had no known enemies and enjoyed a good relationship with other villagers, Rev. Fernando said, adding that the break-in appeared to be more than a simple robbery.
“My desk was completely cleaned out,” he said. “They took important documents with details of parishioners such as baptism and marriage records, which are of no value to thieves. They even took what was in my wastepaper basket.”
Local police agreed that robbery was an unlikely motive and that opponents from outside the area were the most likely culprits. Investigations were continuing at press time.
Finally, anti-Christian mobs in Vakarai, eastern Batticaloa district, intimidated church members gathering for several worship services during Holy Week.
“What can we do?” pastor Kanagalingam Muraleetharan told Compass. “The authorities and the police say we have the right to worship, but the reality is that people are threatened.”
The Easter incidents are the latest in a long series of attacks against churches and Christian individuals in recent years, many of them instigated by Buddhist monks who decry the growth of Christianity in the country.
Members of Sri Lanka’s Parliament may soon enact an anti-conversion bill designed to restrict religious conversions. Human rights organizations and Christian groups have criticized the vague terminology of the legislation that, if passed, may invite misapplication against religious activity.
The draft “Bill for the Prohibition of Forcible Conversions” was referred to a consultative committee of the Ministry of Religious Affairs in February for further deliberation, prior to a final reading and vote. (See http://www.compassdirect.org, “Parliament to Vote on Anti-Conversion Laws,” Jan. 26.)
According to the most recent government census, Protestant Christians number less than 1 percent of the total population in Sri Lanka, but they remain the primary target of religiously motivated violence and intimidation.
Report from Compass News Direct
Assemblies of God World Missions has evacuated its missionaries from troubled Madagascar, an island nation in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa, reports Dan Wooding, founder of ASSIST Ministries.
Following months of threats and infighting for political position, Madagascar experienced a coup on March 17, as President Marc Ravalomanana apparently chose to step down.
“The military is divided as to who they are going to support,” explains Africa Regional Director Mike McClaflin. “The American Embassy very strongly urged American citizens to evacuate the island . . . and now the American Embassy has evacuated its staff.”
McClaflin says that Assemblies of God World Missions (AGWM) leadership made the decision on March 14, at the recommendation of the U.S State Department, to take AG missionaries in Madagascar out of harm’s way and moved them to Nairobi, Kenya, for the time being.
“With missionaries now in 212 countries and territories of the world, almost no civil uprising, conflict or disaster takes place in the world that does not touch the lives of some of our missionaries,” states AGWM Communications Director Randy Hurst. “The unrest and government takeover in Madagascar affects four missionary families and well as one single missionary.”
Included in the list of missionaries evacuated are the families of Nate and Tammy Lashway, Jay and Carey Rostorfer, and Aaron and Heather Santmyire, Zach and Shellie Maddox, missionaries from East Africa who were visiting the Santmyires, along with short-term MAPS worker Ashley Masten, were also evacuated. The Manny Prabhudas family, who also serve in Madagascar, are currently in the United States on their itineration cycle.
Hurst adds that “Madagascar is an example of how so many of the crises in our world today demand that we as a church must commit ourselves increasingly to intercessory prayer for our missionaries and fellow believers around the world.”
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Cyclone Hamish is continuing to track parallel down the Queensland coast and thus far there have been no reports of injuries or major damage. Damaging winds can now be expected between Mackay and Bundaberg with the storm currently located to the north-east of Mackay.
The cyclone has been downgraded from a category 5 cyclone to a category 4 cyclone. The storm is massive and will still cause major damage should it cross the coast on Tuesday as forecast. The cyclone is generating winds of up to 260 km per hour.
Lady Elliot, Heron and Fraser Islands are all being evacuated as the cyclone heads in their direction. It is thought that the Hervey Bay area is the likely area the cyclone will fully impact on, with its remnant reaching possibly Brisbane.
The bushfire emergency in Victoria is far from over tonight as the death toll for the fires has now reached 210 confirmed dead. Three fire-fighters have been injured today as a number of new fires have broken out and older fires continue to burn.
Currently under threat are communities to the east of Melbourne, where a home (in Belgrave Heights) is believed to have been destroyed today, with the possibility of others also having been destroyed. Two fire tankers have also been lost to the fire.
Communities in the Dandenong Ranges have come under threat due to a sudden wind change which is now pushing a bushfire in their direction. The blaze is thought to be threatening Upwey, Tecoma, Belgrave Heights, Belgrave South and Belgrave.
Students at Belgrave Heights Christian School were evacuated this afternoon as the fire came within 4 km of the school. Residents in the communities of Warburton and Yarram have also fled their homes as the fire approaches.
Daylesford may also come under threat, with a bushfire burning to the south of the town. The fire may cause a threat to the communities of Bullarto, Bullarto South, Leonards Hill, Musk, Woodburn and Newbury.
The huge Kilmore East fire (80 000 hectares) is moving ever closer to Warburton, while the Murrindindi North fire (155 000 hectares) is burning to the west of Enoch Point.
Another fire (19 000 hectares) is still burning out of control in the Wilsons Promontory National Park and small communities in the area are preparing for worsening fire conditions.
Current Updates and Advice on the fires can be found at the CFA web site:
The full list of fires (and there are dozens) can be found at:
BELOW: Footage from the National Day of Mourning Service
With bushfires still raging in Victoria, New South Wales has now become a state burdened with a natural disaster. Queensland has been flood-stricken for weeks and now Darwin in the Northern Territory is also expecting flooding.
Some 62% of Queensland is now affected by flooding following weeks of torrential rain, caused by an active monsoonal trough and a cyclone. Some areas are expected to be flooded for weeks.
In New South Wales the north-western town of Bourke has received 2/3 of its annual rainfall in the space of 15 hours on the weekend and has now been declared a natural disaster area, with major flooding in and around the town.
Coastal New South Wales has been inundated since the weekend, with some towns having received their highest amount of rainfall in a five day period for over 35 years. Coffs Harbour has received well over 600 mm in the same period.
Bellingen and Thora are now surrounded by flood waters and a number of rivers up and down the New South Wales coast between Tweed Heads and the Hunter are now in flood or on flood watch, including the Tweed River, the Richmond River, the Wilsons River, the Bellinger River, the Macleay River, the Hastings River, the Manning River, the Orara River, the Nambucca River, the Williams River, the Paterson River, the Hunter River and the Myall River.
Towns affected by flooding include such centres as Bellingen, Wauchope, Port Macquarie and Bulahdelah.
To add to the growing flood threat, another trough and east coast low is developing off the New South Wales Coast and this is also expected to follow the previous system, bringing with it more heavy rain. Heavy rain from this new system is already falling on the north coast.
As these systems move further south toward bushfire ravaged Victoria, they are weakening and the potential for rain is lessening. So far Victoria has received very little rain and bushfires continue to burn.
Further off the Queensland coast there is a tropical depression that is making its way towards the Queensland coast. This could yet develop into a tropical cyclone and bring even more severe weather to Queensland.
In the Northern Territory several towns have been evacuated due to the heavy rain and flooding. Darwin also has a current flood threat warning in place.
Flood waters are now beginning to spill over the South Australian border, making their way towards Lake Eyre.