Istanbul — Authorities in eastern Turkey have cleared a small bird detained on suspicions of spying for Israel.
The kestrel was discovered by residents of Altinavya, a village in Elazig province, wearing a metallic ring stamped with the words “24311 Tel Avivunia Israel.” Suspicious that the bird may have been on a spying mission for the Jewish state, villagers turned the bird over to local authorities.
Medical personnel at Elazig’s Firat University initially identified the kestrel as “Israeli Spy” in their registration documents. Medical examinations — including xrays — determined that the bird was, indeed, just a bird. There were no sign of microchips that might transmit information back to Israel, local media reported. The kestrel was allowed to fly off after authorities determined there was no need to press charges.
This isn’t the first time Turkish authorities appear to have become concerned about an animal spy working…
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Taliban takes responsibility, but medical organization unsure of killers’ identity.
ISTANBUL, August 12 (CDN) — The killing of a team of eye medics, including eight Christian aid workers, in a remote area of Afghanistan last week was likely the work of opportunistic gunmen whose motives are not yet clear, the head of the medical organization said today.
On Friday (Aug. 6), 10 medical workers were found shot dead next to their bullet-ridden Land Rovers. The team of two Afghan helpers and eight Christian foreigners worked for the International Assistance Mission (IAM). They were on their way back to Kabul after having provided medical care to Afghans in one of the country’s remotest areas.
Afghan authorities have not been conclusive about who is responsible for the deaths nor the motivation behind the killings. In initial statements last week the commissioner of Badakhshan, where the killings took place, said it was an act of robbers. In the following days, the Taliban took responsibility for the deaths.
The Associated Press reported that a Taliban spokesman said they had killed them because they were spies and “preaching Christianity.” Another Taliban statement claimed that they were carrying Dari-language Bibles, according to the news agency. Initially the attack was reported as a robbery, which IAM Executive Director Dirk Frans said was not true.
“There are all these conflicting reports, and basically our conclusion is that none of them are true,” Frans told Compass. “This was an opportunistic attack where fighters had been displaced from a neighboring district, and they just happened to know about the team. I think this was an opportunistic chance for them to get some attention.”
A new wave of tribal insurgents seeking territory, mineral wealth and smuggling routes has arisen that, taken together, far outnumber Taliban rebels, according to recent U.S. intelligence reports.
Frans added that he is expecting more clarity as authorities continue their investigations.
He has denied the allegation that the members of their medical team were proselytizing.
“IAM is a Christian organization – we have never hidden this,” Frans told journalists in Kabul on Monday (Aug. 9). “Indeed, we are registered as such with the Afghan government. Our faith motivates and inspires us – but we do not proselytize. We abide by the laws of Afghanistan.”
IAM has been registered as a non-profit Christian organization in Afghanistan since 1966.
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, a former political candidate, dismissed the Taliban’s claims that team members were proselytizing or spying, according to the BBC.
“These were dedicated people,” Abdullah said according to the BBC report. “Tom Little used to work in Afghanistan with his heart – he dedicated half of his life to service the people of Afghanistan.”
Abdullah had trained as an eye surgeon under Tom Little, 62, an optometrist who led the team that was killed last week. Little and his family had lived in Afghanistan for more than 30 years with IAM providing eye care.
IAM has provided eye care and medical help in Afghanistan since 1966. In the last 44 years, Frans estimates they have provided eye care to more than 5 million Afghans.
Frans said he doesn’t think that Christian aid workers are particularly targeted, since every day there are many Afghan casualties, and the insurgents themselves realize they need the relief efforts.
“We feel that large parts of the population are very much in favor of what we do,” he said. “The people I met were shocked [by the murders]; they knew the members of the eye care team, and they were shocked that selfless individuals who are going out of their way to actually help the Afghan people … they are devastated.”
The team had set up a temporary medical and eye-treatment camp in the area of Nuristan for two and a half weeks, despite heavy rains and flooding affecting the area that borders with Pakistan.
Nuristan communities had invited the IAM medical team. Afghans of the area travelled from the surrounding areas to receive treatment in the pouring rain, said Little’s wife in a CNN interview earlier this week, as she recalled a conversation with her husband days before he was shot.
Little called his wife twice a day and told her that even though it was pouring “sheets of rain,” hundreds of drenched people were gathering from the surrounding areas desperate to get medical treatment.
The Long Path Home
The team left Nuristan following a difficult path north into Badakhshan that was considered safer than others for reaching Kabul. Frans said the trek took two days in harsh weather, and the team had to cross a mountain range that was 5,000 meters high.
“South of Nuristan there is a road that leads into the valley where we had been asked to come and treat the eye patients, and a very easy route would have been through the city of Jalalabad and then up north to Parun, where we had planned the eye camp,” Frans told Compass. “However, that area of Nuristan is very unsafe.”
When the team ended their trek and boarded their vehicles, the armed group attacked them and killed all but one Afghan member of the team. Authorities and IAM believe the team members were killed between Aug. 4 and 5. Frans said he last spoke with Little on Aug. 4.
IAM plans eye camps in remote areas every two years due to the difficulty of preparing for the work and putting a team together that is qualified and can endure the harsh travel conditions, he said.
“We have actually lost our capacity to do camps like this in remote areas because we lost two of our veteran people as well as others we were training to take over these kinds of trips,” Frans said.
The team of experts who lost their lives was composed of two Afghan Muslims, Mahram Ali and another identified only as Jawed; British citizen Karen Woo, German Daniela Beyer, and U.S. citizens Little, Cheryl Beckett, Brian Carderelli, Tom Grams, Glenn Lapp and Dan Terry.
“I know that the foreign workers of IAM were all committed Christians, and they felt this was the place where they needed to live out their life in practice by working with and for people who have very little access to anything we would call normal facilities,” said Frans. “The others were motivated by humanitarian motives. All of them in fact were one way or another committed to the Afghan people.”
The two Afghans were buried earlier this week. Little and Terry, who both had lived in the war-torn country for decades, will be buried in Afghanistan.
Despite the brutal murders, Frans said that as long as the Afghans and their government continue to welcome them, IAM will stay.
“We are here for the people, and as long as they want us to be here and the government in power gives us the opportunity to work here, we are their guests and we’ll stay, God willing,” he said.
On Sunday (Aug. 8), at his home church in Loudonville, New York, Dr. Tom Hale, a medical relief worker himself, praised the courage and sacrifice of the eight Christians who dedicated their lives to helping Afghans.
“Though this loss has been enormous, I want to state my conviction that this loss is not senseless; it is not a waste,” said Hale. “Remember this: those eight martyrs in Afghanistan did not lose their lives, they gave up their lives.”
Days before the team was found dead, Little’s wife wrote about their family’s motivation to stay in Afghanistan through “miserable” times. Libby Little described how in the 1970s during a citizens’ uprising they chose not to take shelter with other foreigners but to remain in their neighborhood.
“As the fighting worsened and streets were abandoned, our neighbors fed us fresh bread and sweet milk,” she wrote. “Some took turns guarding our gate, motioning angry mobs to ‘pass by’ our home. When the fighting ended, they referred to us as ‘the people who stayed.’
“May the fruitful door of opportunity to embrace suffering in service, or at least embrace those who are suffering, remain open for the sake of God’s kingdom,” she concluded.
Concern for Afghan Christians
Afghanistan’s population is estimated at 28 million. Among them are very few Christians. Afghan converts are not accepted by the predominantly Muslim society. In recent months experts have expressed concern over political threats against local Christians.
At the end of May, private Afghan TV station Noorin showed images of Afghan Christians being baptized and praying. Within days the subject of Afghans leaving Islam for Christianity became national news and ignited a heated debate in the Parliament and Senate. The government conducted formal investigations into activities of Christian aid agencies. In June IAM successfully passed an inspection by the Afghan Ministry of Economy.
In early June the deputy secretary of the Afghan Parliament, Abdul Sattar Khawasi, called for the execution of converts, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).
“Those Afghans that appeared on this video film should be executed in public,” he said, according to the AFP. “The house should order the attorney general and the NDS (intelligence agency) to arrest these Afghans and execute them.”
Small protests against Christians ensued in Kabul and other towns, and two foreign aid groups were accused of proselytizing and their activities were suspended, news sources reported.
A source working with the Afghan church who requested anonymity said she was concerned that the murders of IAM workers last week might negatively affect Afghan Christians and Christian aid workers.
“The deaths have the potential to shake the local and foreign Christians and deeply intimidate them even further,” said the source. “Let’s pray that it will be an impact that strengthens the church there but that might take awhile.”
Report from Compass Direct News
World Vision worker says militants dragged his colleagues into room and executed them.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 10 (CDN) — Suspected Islamic militants armed with guns and grenades stormed the offices of a Christian relief and development organization in northwest Pakistan today, killing six aid workers and wounding seven others.
The gunmen besieged the offices of international humanitarian organization World Vision near Oghi, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Islamabad in Mansehra district of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Police and World Vision’s regional spokesman said the Pakistani staff members, including two women, were killed after up to 15 gunmen arrived in pick-up trucks and began firing.
“They gathered all of us in one room,” World Vision administration officer Mohammad Sajid, who was in the office at the time, told Compass. “The gunmen, some of whom had their faces covered, also snatched our mobile phones. They dragged people one by one and shifted them to an adjacent room and shot and killed them.”
Rienk van Velzen, World Vision’s regional communications director, said from the Netherlands that all staff members in the office were Pakistanis. He said one is missing.
The organization has been operating in the area since October 2005, when aid workers flooded into the northwest after a 7.6-magnitude earthquake killed more than 73,000 people and left about 3.5 million homeless.
But many charities have since left the area as Islamist violence soared. In February 2008, four aid workers with the British-based group Plan International were killed in a similar gun and grenade attack in Mansehra town.
Police said the militants escaped into the hills.
“Police rushed to the area after receiving information about the attack, but the attackers managed to flee,” senior police officer Waqar Ahmed said. “We chased them, there was an exchange of fire, but the gunmen escaped into the mountains.”
Ahmed blamed the attack on “the same people who are destroying our schools” – a reference to Taliban militants opposed to co-education who have blown up hundreds of schools across the northwest in the past three years.
“Now they want to disturb relief work in quake-hit areas,” Ahmed said.
World Vision’s website says the aid group is “inspired by our Christian values” but stresses that it does not proselytize or predicate aid on a person’s faith.
Foreign targets are rarely attacked directly in Pakistan, despite the chronic insecurity in the nuclear-armed, Muslim state, which is a key ally in the U.S.-led war on Al Qaeda and the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.
A wave of suicide and bomb attacks across Pakistan has killed more than 3,000 people since 2007. Blame has fallen on Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked militants bitterly opposed to the alliance with the United States.
The United Nations decided last year to relocate a limited number of its international staff from Pakistan because of security concerns.
The UN’s World Food Program office in Islamabad was attacked in October last year, with five aid workers killed in a suicide bombing.
Then on Feb. 3, a bomb attack in the NWFP district of Lower Dir killed three U.S. soldiers and five other people at the opening of a school just rebuilt with Western funding after an Islamist attack.
Elsewhere in the northwest today, police found the bodies of two men the Taliban had accused of spying for the United States. The local tribesmen had been snatched last month from Mir Ali in North Waziristan tribal region, and their “bullet-riddled bodies were found dumped under a bridge,” police officer Dildar Khan said.
Report from Compass Direct News
A Chinese human rights watchdog organization says a Christian House Church leader has been freed by government authorities as the result of international pressure.
In a media release ChinaAid says that
at 6 p.m. on April 24, Pastor Lou Yuanqi of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region was released from prison under the provision of “bailed out waiting for trial, ” a legal procedure called “qu bao hou shen.”
ChinaAid said: “Though this provision allows for future arrest and prosecution, Pastor Lou was released and permitted to return home. The provision’s purpose is also to prevent Pastor Lou or his family from filing an administrative lawsuit against the state for compensation for illegal detention time.”
The media release explains that Xinjiang authorities could not find evidence sufficient to continue his prosecution and indictment. According to family members, Pastor Lou looked fragile, because of the horrible conditions he suffered in prison. He suffers from hepatitis B, and is in great need of medical attention.
It adds: “Pastor Lou’s faith is very strong, and he, his wife Wang Wenxiu and their three children are overwhelmed by the response from the international community.”
According to ChinaAid, Pastor Lou was first detained on May 17, 2008 at 1 p.m. in Qingshuihe town, Huocheng county of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Pastor Lou stood trial on December 15, 2008 on charges of “utilizing superstition to undermine the law.”
ChinaAid stated: “Those close to the case say the authorities’ motivation for the charge was to stop Lou’s house church from meeting in his home. Immediately after Lou’s trial, his daughter, Lou Tiantian, 18, was beaten by court police when she tried to speak with her father as he was being put into a police car.”
ChinaAid says that later, the court issued a statement, declaring “the facts [in Pastor Lou’s case] unclear and the evidence insufficient.” Despite this ruling, Pastor Lou continued to be imprisoned until his release on April 24.
Two other Xinjiang Christians, Alimujiang Yimiti and Wusiman Yiming, are currently suffering in prison for their faith, according to the ChinaAid media release.
Alimujiang Yimiti, a Uyghur Christian, was first detained on the charge of “endangering the security of the state,” then was officially arrested on February 20, 2008 for “suspicion of inciting secession and organizing people in stealing, spying, buying and illegally providing state secrets or intelligence to overseas organizations.”
However, ChinaAid says sources say the real reason for his detention is because of his Christian faith and witness among the Uyghur people. Alimujiang was seen March 31 around 10 a.m. (local time) at Nongsanshi (Military Farm) Hospital in Kashgar. His hands were bound and he was observed being roughly escorted by police and a prison doctor while repeatedly crying out to onlookers in Chinese, “I’m sick. Tell my lawyer to come quickly to see me.”
Wusiman Yiming, another Uyghur Christian, was sentenced to two years of re-education through labor in September 2007 for “revealing state secrets” and “illegal proselytizing.”
ChinaAid sources say that he was, in fact, sentenced because of his boldness as a Christian and a leader in the Uyghur church. Sources report that he has aged dramatically in the labor camp and his health is deteriorating due to harsh conditions.
“We welcome the release of this innocent pastor who has been arbitrarily detained for more than a year simply for his Christian faith related activities,” said ChinaAid’s Bob Fu.
“We urge the Xinjiang authorities to release other innocent people of faith such as Alimujiang Yimiti and Wusiman Yiming.”
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Four other Christians arrested as apparent crackdown continues.
LOS ANGELES, September 10 (Compass Direct News) – Five arrests in three cities across Iran in August suggest a continued crackdown on Iranian Christians by authorities, sources told Compass.
The most recent of the arrests took place on Aug. 21, when Ramtin Soodmand, son of martyred Assemblies of God pastor Hossein Soodmand, turned himself in after repeated calls from the Ministry of Information in Tehran. His father was executed by the state in 1990 for leaving Islam.
Sources told Compass that for weeks Soodmand had received repeated calls from authorities telling him to travel from Mashhad, where he lives, to Tehran. Yielding to pressure, Soodmand surrendered himself to the media center of the Ministry of Information at 9 a.m. on Aug. 21 but was not heard of until 3 p.m. of the next day. He has remained in detention since then.
Shortly after his detention, Soodmand’s wife, Mitra, tried to visit her husband and was told to come back later. “Your husband is going to be in jail for a very long time,” sources reported that authorities told her.
Soodmand has been able to make only one phone call – to his mother, who is blind, on Aug. 23. He told her that he was fine, but authorities did not allow him to call his wife, sources said.
Last week Soodmand’s wife and two young children were finally allowed to visit him in Tehran. When they arrived, however, they found that they could only speak with him through a phone receiver and never saw him.
In the two-minute conversation, Soodmand told his wife several times, “I am fine, don’t worry,” sources reported. No other family members or friends have been allowed to see or speak to Soodmand. Neither his condition nor where he is being held were clear.
Sources said that authorities have also not informed his family of the charges against him.
His father, the last Iranian Christian convert from Islam executed by the Iranian government, was accused of working as “an American spy.” Since then six more Protestant pastors have been assassinated by unknown killers.
The week before Ramtin Soodmand turned himself in, another Christian in Mashhad, Iman Rashidi, was arrested. Rashidi’s whereabouts and condition are unknown. Rooz, a Farsi news website, reported him as under 18 years old.
Kurdish Christian Awaits Trial
A Christian member of Iran’s Kurdish community, Shahin Zanboori, was arrested on Aug. 9 in the southwestern city of Arak, located in the Central Province of Iran, bordering Iraq.
Secret police detained Zanboori while he was evangelizing, sources told Compass. He was tortured during interrogation and suffered a broken arm and leg.
While in jail he told sources that he “felt God’s presence in spite of the horrific treatment he received.” He described being handcuffed and suspended from the ceiling while police severely beat the soles of his feet to get him to confess to crimes and give the names of all the believers he knew, according to sources.
Authorities also confiscated Zanboori’s computer and cell phone.
Zanboori was released on Aug. 31 to his father, who lives in Kermanshah. His trial date had been set for Monday (Sept. 8), but sources have yet to learn the outcome of the hearing. He is expected to be charged with spying for foreign powers – a less serious offense than “apostasy” (leaving Islam).
In the city of Kerman in south central Iran, a couple identified as Darioush and Shirin were reportedly arrested on Aug. 8. At press time nothing more was known about their case.
Under the past three decades of Iran’s Islamist regime, hundreds of citizens who have left Islam and become Christians have been arrested for weeks or months, held in unknown locations and subjected to mental and physical torture.
Possible Reasons for Crackdown
One source who works closely with Iranian refugees believes that politics are one reason for Iran’s crackdown on Christians.
“Christians are viewed as potential spies allied with Israel or America,” he said, adding that the overwhelming number of Iranian Christians he counsels have been visited and intimidated by police, leading them to flee from Iran.
He also believes that the apparent explosion in the number of house churches frightens Iran’s government.
“They see it as something they cannot control, so they are afraid of house churches,” he said.
Another expert on Iran believes Christians outside of Iran who exaggerate the number of conversions and house churches are partly responsible for the growth of persecution. When Christians claim there are thousands of house churches throughout the country, he said, Iranian authorities feel threatened .
“They [the police] are obligated to crack down on Christian activities when these activities become too public,” one Iranian Christian said.
Report from Compass Direct News