Originally published in Charisma News
Open Doors USA is calling for prayers for the victims and families of a massacre at a church in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Sunday and for the ongoing attack and hostage situation at a mall in Nairobi, Kenya.
According to Reuters, a pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up outside a 130-year-old Anglican church after Mass, killing at least 89 people in the deadliest attack on Christians in the predominantly Muslim country of Pakistan. Reuters’ report said explosions struck the historic All Saints Church as hundreds of parishioners, many of them women and children, streamed out of the building. An estimated 100 people were wounded. The Taliban-linked militant group, TTP Jundullah, claimed responsibility within hours of the attack, according to the news service.
In Kenya, the Somali-based, al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack at the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi that began on Saturday and has left at least 62 dead and more than 175 injured. An unknown number of people remain hostage. The death toll is expected to rise as more bodies are found. Police say they are concerned many are trapped inside the center.
Need to stand in the gap
David Curry, Open Doors USA president and CEO, states, “Tragically, these two attacks are examples of how dangerous it is to be a Christian or associated with the West in Pakistan, Kenya and many other countries around the world. There is no doubt these attacks are increasing in intensity and frequency. We ask every Christian to pray for the innocent victims of these violent attacks, their families and communities. We need to stand in the gap.”
Al-Shabab says the attack came out of revenge for Kenya’s military operations in Somalia, which began nearly two years ago. Open Doors staff reported that the situation across the capital of Nairobi and the country remained tense as Israeli advisers helped Kenyan authorities to seek an end to the siege. So far Open Doors has no news of staff members being affected by the attack.
“We ask supporters around the world to join us in praying for Kenya as the country comes to terms with this horrific attack,” comments an Open Doors worker closely involved with operations in Kenya. “Our thoughts go out to all those who have lost loved ones. We pray for God’s healing for the injured. There is a very prominent Christian presence in Nairobi, and we pray that the church will have the opportunity and the courage to reveal the character of Christ in the midst of these circumstances. We pray that what the attackers meant for evil, God will use for good.”
Kenya is listed as No 40 on Open Doors 2013 World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians. According to the list, “Islamic extremism is an important source of hostility against Christians in Kenya. Tribal antagonism is an upcoming persecution dynamic. Kenya (as a complete country) is new on the World Watch List. The high level of violence against Christians or churches is remarkable and much of it has to with al-Shabab or al-Shabab-inspired extremist groups.”
Pakistan is No. 14 on the Open Doors World Watch List. Pakistan’s Christians are “caught between Islamic militant organizations, an Islamizing culture and a weak government with a military complicit in fueling Islamic militants,” according to the list. Pakistan, a country of 179 million, is 96 percent Muslim and 2.5 percent Christian.
Meanwhile World Watch Monitor reports that as expressions of sympathy poured in following the church massacre in Pakistan, protests broke out across the country, fuelled by grief and by accusations that the government does too little to protect religious minorities in the Muslim-majority country. One person died in the protests.
Government officials joined Pakistan’s top clerics in demanding heavier security for minorities, and expressed second thoughts about attempting dialogue with militant Islamists.
Pakistan’s National Assembly on Monday unanimously condemned the bomb attack, and urged the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial government to increase security at religious sites.
In Peshawar, police Supt. Ismail Kharak said a four-member committee has been created to investigate the bomb attacks, and that a new plan to provide security to minorities has been created. The plan involves increased police patrols at religious sites, he told Independent News Pakistan.
The injured were shifted to the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar immediately after the incident. A Christian-rights organisation, The Voice, said no proper medical treatment had been given in the children’s ward until the second day.
Aneeqa Maria, the head of the organisation, said she was told that the provincial government did not allow the Christians to hold a demonstration protesting at the lack of emergency medical facilities; it also forced the bereaved to bury their dead within a few hours after the incident.
Eighty-one of the victims were buried on Sunday, according to Bishop Sebastian Shaw, apostolic administrator of the Lahore Catholic Archdiocese. Independent News Pakistan reported on Monday that the burials were conducted at three locations.
Responsibility for the attacks on the All Saints Church has been claimed by Jandullah (“Soldiers of God”), which is part of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, and closely linked with Al-Qaeda. Some report they are linked to U.S. drone strikes in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Similar attacks are not new to Pakistan. In October 2001, Catholic church St. Dominic’s was attacked with indiscriminate firing that killed 17 worshippers. In March 2002, hand grenades were thrown in the Protestant International Church in Islamabad that killed six people including a U.S. diplomat’s wife. Then in August 2002, the chapel of Taxila Christian Hospital was attacked where three nurses died.
Since then, no such serious attack on a church has taken place. Sources in Pakistan believe this implied that the terrorists perceived they could not achieve their objectives by attacking Christians: their deaths did not appear to bring any change in international policies; neither does the beleaguered Christian community maintain any political strength that could be crippled by such attacks.
On the other hand, in Pakistan there have been incidents of mob violence against the Christians who make up only about 2.5 per cent of the population.
In August 2009, seven Christians were burned to death in communal violence in Gojra, Punjab and more than 100 houses were burned. In March this year, more than 50 houses were set on fire on the pretext of blasphemy, in the city of Lahore. Such incidents have been routinely taking place and their recurrence has dramatically increased since 9/11.
The government has ordered three days of national mourning, following the example of all church institutions, which have closed for three days of prayer and peaceful protests.
Muhammad Ramzan Chaudhry, chairman of Free Legal Aid Committee and Pakistan Bar Council, has offered affected families free legal assistance to pursue their claims for compensation. He said Pakistan faces a “fast-deteriorating law and order situation, and the utter failure of law enforcement agencies to check and control such terrorist attacks, which now have become a routine affair”. What the country needs now, he said, is “a foolproof practical strategy and plan for improving law and order, to ensure the safety and security of all, especially the minorities”.