On January 2, the Boko Haram terrorist group abducted Reverend Lawan Andimi, a pastor and district chairman of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, who was married with 9 children. After demanding two million euros ransom, which his church and family could not raise, they beheaded Andimi on January 20. Pictured: A screenshot from a video released by Boko Haram on January 5, with the abducted Reverend Lawan Andimi speaking in front of the camera.
The Slaughter of Christians in Nigeria
During several separate incidents, militant Muslims—whether Fulani herdsmen, Boko Haram, or generic terrorists—continued to attack and massacre several Christians.
On Friday, January 17, for instance, Muslim Fulani tribesmen on motorbikes raided a Christian village at a time they knew people were congregating in the village square where Christian fellowship often took place. They then opened fire. “As the people fled into nearby bushes to take cover, the attackers retreated and left,” an area resident said. “We are sad about these attacks on our people, which seem to be unending.” Two young Christian girls—Briget Philip, 18, and Priscilla David, 19—were killed, and at least three other teenagers were seriously wounded.
In another incident, “[a]t least 32 people [including a pregnant woman] were killed and a pastor’s house and church building were burned down in two nights of attacks [on predominantly Christian regions] this week by Muslim Fulani herdsmen in Plateau state,” noted a January 30 report.
In the early hours of January 20, gunmen invaded the Lutheran Church of Christ, where its pastor, the Rev. Dennis Bagauri, lived; they opened fire on “and shot him dead at night when all persons in the area had gone to sleep,” a local confirmed.
Boko Haram (whose name roughly means “Western education is a sin”) released another execution video. In it, a masked Muslim child holding a pistol appears standing behind a bound and kneeling hostage, later identified as Ropvil Daciya Dalep, a 22-year-old Christian and member of the Church of Christ in Nations, who was kidnapped on January 9 while traveling to his university, where he majored in biology. After chanting in Arabic and launching into an anti-Christian diatribe, the Muslim child proceeds to shoot Ropvil several times in the back of the head.
On January 2, Islamic gunmen abducted Reverend Lawan Andimi, a pastor and district chairman of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. After the terrorists demanded an exorbitant ransom for his release—two million euros, which his church and family simply could not raise—they beheaded the married father-of-nine on January 20. Earlier, in a January 5 video that his abductors released, Pastor Lawan had said that he hoped to be reunited with his wife and children; however, “[i]f the opportunity has not been granted, maybe it is the will of God. I want all people close and far, colleagues, to be patient. Don’t cry, don’t worry, but thank God for everything.”
In a statement prompted by all these unchecked murders of Christians, the director of legal and public affairs of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Kwamkur Vondip, blasted the Muslim-led government of Nigeria for “colluding” with the Islamic terrorists:
“In the light of the current developments and the circumstantial facts surrounding the prevailing upsurge of attacks against the church, it will be difficult for us to believe that the federal government under President Muhammadu Buhari is not colluding with the insurgents to exterminate Christians in Nigeria, bearing in mind the very questionable leadership of the security sector that has been skewed towards a religion and region. Is that lopsidedness not a cover-up for the operation of the insurgency?…. Since the government and its apologists are claiming the killings have no religious undertones, why are the terrorists and herdsmen targeting the predominantly Christian communities and Christian leaders?”
The nonstop massacres of Christians which are met with impunity from the Nigerian government also prompted Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto, in a January 3 report, to express his disgust with the government: “The only difference between the government and Boko Haram,” he said, “is that Boko Haram is holding a bomb.” The Nigerian government is “using the levers of power to secure the supremacy of Islam, which then gives more weight to the idea that it can be achieved by violence.”
The Slaughter of Christians Elsewhere in Africa
Kenya: Armed Muslims connected with neighboring Somalia’s terrorist group, Al Shabaab (“the youth”), murdered three Christian teachers during a raid on a primary school in the early hours of January 13; a fourth victim managed to survive.
Another local teacher said “We are sad and at the same time scared because we are targeted for being non-local government workers that belong to the Christian faith.” While discussing this incident, a separate report adds that
“Today’s attack comes against the backdrop of a series of attacks from the terrorist group in the last five weeks, leading to the loss of 25 people total … On December 6, 2019, four teachers were among the 11 non-local Christian passengers killed … when al-Shabaab flagged down the bus they were traveling in. The militants separated the passengers and killed those on the spot who failed to recite the Islamic Shahada.”
Central African Republic: Militant Muslims shot and killed two Christian pastorsas they travelled together by car after having conducted a Christmas Day church service. According to the January 6 report, after murdering the Christians, the “jihadists” continued “shooting, preventing efforts to recover the bodies. The men had to be buried later at the scene of the attack.” The report adds that the “Christian-majority Central African Republic has been blighted by violence since 2013, when the Seleka Islamist armed group briefly overthrew the government…. Christian communities continue to be the targets of attacks…. In November 2018, more than 40 people were killed and many were forced to flee when members of an Islamist militia attacked a Christian mission in Alindao.
Cameroon: “Not a day passes without attacks on the villages on Cameroon’s frontier with Nigeria,” lamented Bishop Bruno Ateba in a January 24 report, referring to increased incursions into Christian villages by the Islamic terror group, Boko Haram: “Boko Haram is like the beast of the Apocalypse, or a many-headed Hydra—whenever you cut off one of its heads, it seems simply to grow another…. Within my own diocese there have been 13 attacks in the last weeks.” One of those attacks saw a church torched on the feast of the Epiphany. “We are still investigating who was behind the incident, but everything points to the fact that it was a terrorist attack.” Bishop Barthélemy also shared his experiences: “My birthplace, the village of Blablim, no longer exists. The terrorists have murdered a young man of my family and totally devastated the entire village, including the house I was born in. Everybody, with the exception of the sick and elderly, was forced to flee to Mora, 10 miles away. It will be impossible now to gather in the cotton harvest.”
Egypt: On January 12, a Muslim man crept up behind a Christian woman walking home with groceries, pulled her head back with a hand full of hair, and slit her throat with a knife in the other hand. Nearby people restrained the man in al-Wariq, Giza, where the incident took place. Catherine Ramzi was rushed to a nearby medical center, where her throat was sewn with 63 stitches; despite initial heavy bleeding, she managed to survive. The doctor told her that had the knife penetrated one millimeter more—her now mangled sweatshirt had provided some buffering against the knife—it would have reached her jugular vein and killed her. During an interview, she said that she had never before seen the man. All she heard him say during the assault is that she “deserved it” because her “hair was exposed.” He may have also identified her as a Christian because, like many Copts, Catherine bears a visible tattoo of the cross on her hand.
Separately, on January 14, 2020, in the region of al-Maraj, another Muslim man tried to slaughter a Christian man with a sharp box-cutter in a public space. He managed only to slice off a portion of the Copt’s ear. After Muhammad ‘Awad, 32, was arrested and questioned as to why he tried to murder Rafiq Karam, 56, he confessed that he did not know him, but that he simply “hates Christians.”
Attacks on Christian Churches
Sudan: Three churches—a Sudan Internal church, a Catholic church and an Orthodox church—were simultaneously burnt down twice over the course of three weeks in the Blue Nile state. The arsonists are suspected to be area Muslims. According to a January 20 statement from a human rights group published in the Sudan Tribune,
“On the evening of 28th December 2019, three churches in three different neighbourhoods … were set on fire (burnt) at the same time by arsonists. The worshipers quickly rebuild the three churches using the local materials as it was before. However, for the second time, on the evening of 16th January…. [L]ocal authorities did not take any measure to protect the churches or to investigate the attacks.”
“This incident is true, the three churches were set on fire twice in less than a month,” a local pastor confirmed, adding that “area Muslims were upset about the presence of the churches there, and they are suspected in the fires.”
Philippines: On January 19, police arrested two Muslim men from the Islamic terror group Abu Sayyaf (“the sword-forger”) before they could carry out a planned bomb attack on a Catholic cathedral in Basilan, to which both men confessed. Explosive materials—including more than 3 kilos (6.6 pounds) of assorted nails, blasting caps, 1.5-volt batteries, and wires—were recovered from their hideout. Abu Sayyaf earlier “masterminded a twin bombing at a church on southern Jolo island in January 2019 that left more than 20 people dead.”
Egypt: “The security apparatus prevented Copts in Faw Bahri … from holding the New Year’s Eve prayer on Tuesday, 31 December, in the home of a local Copt. Several Copts gathered in the building and complained about being prohibited from completing the prayer,” the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a Cairo based think tank with an emphasis on human rights, said in a January 6 press release:
“The building that security shut down and prevented prayer inside of is owned by a village Copt and has been used for worship services for four months [and apparently set on fire before for this reason]. Security promised to rapidly secure a building permit for a new church on a 460-meter tract of land purchased by the church a while back. All the necessary surveys have been conducted by official bodies and a wall was built around the plot. All that is needed to start construction is the permits. The closest church to the village is 10 km away…. 3,000 Christians live in the village and used to pray at the house that was shuttered by security. They are all waiting for security to keep its promise to issue permits for the construction of a new church.”
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) further criticized the “glacial pace” of the Sisi-government’s hitherto much lauded church construction law adopted in September 2016. More than “three years after its adoption, the church construction law has failed to end violations of Christians’ right to worship and address related sectarian tensions…. [T]he process to regularize the legal status of churches is moving at a glacial pace and lacks transparency,” the press releaseadded:
“The EIPR has documented at least 36 cases of sectarian tension and violence since the church construction law went into effect and through the end of 2019, all of them associated with the worship practices. In the same period, interventions by various state institutions led to the closure of 25 churches and the prohibition of collective worship services in the areas in question. In many of these cases, customary reconciliation sessions were convened that concluded with agreements to shut down the church while promising to grant the necessary permits when papers were officially filed. Yet, when church officials applied for official permits, state agencies refused to grant permits or allow them to organize religious services or mass.”
Indonesia: Construction of the Bethel Church of Indonesia (GBI) My Home church, plans for which began in 2016, was “abruptly halted” after its building permit was revoked. The church would have served 1,200 registered congregants. In response, on January 16, Amnesty International Indonesia in a statement urged the authorities to annul their decision to revoke the permit:
“This is a clear case of persecution and discrimination against a religious minority. The authorities in Tanjungpinang have failed to provide any legal justification for denying this permit and blatantly disregarded the Constitution and their obligations to respect the right to religious freedom and ensure equal enjoyment of human rights.”
“Built in 1928, St Joseph’s Catholic Church needs to be renovated and enlarged. Originally it could accommodate 100 people, but now it has more than 700 members. Despite having all the permits, the project is opposed by a small group of young Muslims who threaten action against public order…. Local Catholics are critical of Karimun district chief who, bowing to extremists, has turned against the project even though it has all the required permits.”
Although area Christians had “explained to Karimun officials [that] there will be no symbol or ornament outside the church; no cross, no statue, no image of Mary will be displayed visible outside the church”; and although this decision by the Christians was taken reluctantly, as it would make the building look like “a gym or a conference hall”—Muslims still rejected the church.
“The arrest comes just under a year after another church in Toulouse, the Notre-Dame du Taur, was vandalised by an individual who wrote ‘Allah u Akbar’ on the doors of the building…. Church attacks in France have become a major issue in the last several years, with a report from March of last year claiming that there are as many as three attacks on churches or graveyards per day on average, with a total of 1,063 cases in 2018.”
One recent attack “saw human faeces smeared into prayer books at a church in the commune of Tarbes.”
Sweden: After a series of arson attacks on St. Maria Syrian Orthodox Church—one of which was started by someone pouring and lighting gasoline to its exterior—church members have begun to patrol its premises at night in the hopes of preventing further attacks. The January 10 report adds that, “Church attacks in Sweden are relatively uncommon in general but attacks on communities targetted [sic] by radical Islamic Sunni extremists, such as Syrian Christians and Shi’ite Muslims, are a concern in the country.”
Attacks on Apostates and Blasphemers
Iran: A court sentenced Ismaeil Maghrebinejad, 65, a Muslim convert to Christianity, to three years imprisonment on the charge of “insulting Islamic sacred beliefs,” said human rights group Middle East Concern in a January 22 report. The Christian was initially charged with “propaganda against the state and insulting the sacred Iranian establishment,” but during “a hearing on 22 October, the judge further accused Ismaeil of apostasy [that is, turning away from Islam, an act that is a capital crime according to some interpretations of Islamic law] and increased bail demands from 10 million to 100 million tomans (US$9000). Friends provided pledges to cover the bail demands. There were further hearings in November (when the apostasy charge was dropped), December and January.” On January 8, he was found guilty of “insulting Islamic sacred beliefs in cyberspace”—a reference to the claim that “Ismaeil had forwarded a message sent to his phone that was deemed to be insulting to the ruling Iranian clerics”—and sentenced to three year imprisonment. According to a human rights activist associated with the case, the sentence is “a disproportionate reaction to something so ordinary. The other charges that Ismaeil is facing, as well as the quashed charge of apostasy, (are) related to his conversion to Christianity. This may reveal the real reason why he’s been charged with something that most ordinary Iranians do on a daily basis.”
“His [Muslim] accusers, Shahzaib and Ahmad, hold a grudge against him for being a Christian. On 27 December the two surrounded him at the market, dragged him to a nearby landfill where children collect paper, and beat [him there]. His screams drew the attention of his friend Ishaq [a moderate Muslim], who came to his aid. At that point, the attackers accused both of blasphemy, of burning pages of the Qurʼān. A riot followed, with a nearby mosque calling on Muslims to kill both men. When police arrived, it took the two friends to a police station, questioned them and moved them to a prison, where they are still being held. Human rights groups slam the cops for giving in to extremist pressure and formally recording the case. For their part, radicals threatened to burn the homes of Christians as well as that of the Muslim man, ‘guilty’ of being friends with the Christian. For this reason, the families of the accused went into hiding at an unknown location.”
Generic Hate for and Violence against Christians
Egypt: Muslim students at a Minya school “rejected” Mervat Seifein, a school teacher, “for the explicit reason that she is Copt,” that is, a Christian, a reportnoted. After “a routine promotion in which she replaced the previous school director who is a Muslim,” both boy and girl “students protested and held a sit-in in the school courtyard asking for her removal.” “We don’t want a Copt!” they cried. Some Muslim teachers joined in the protests. Police were unable to disperse the boys’ demonstration in the courtyard. “The girls who demonstrated against me don’t know me,” Mervat responded, “so why the antagonism? Simply because I am Coptic? The only explanation I can fathom is there has been fanatic incitement going on against my promotion, possibly by persons who are purely extremist or who have an interest in keeping me out of that post.” Ezzat Ibrahim, a human rights activist, added that a prompt official investigation should be conducted into the matter:
“This is flagrant religious discrimination. It brings to mind the incident in the southern province of Qena when the Islamists rose against the appointment of a Coptic governor in the past-Arab Spring weeks in 2011, and the State gave in and went back on the appointment. It is catastrophic that some 50 or 100 teenage girls or boys should impose their will on the State. And it is equally disastrous that these students were pushed to do so by a group of fanatic Islamists. The positive official response to their preposterous demands amounts to an invitation for religious discrimination. The deputy minister who did that must be dismissed.”
Bangladesh: Twelve Christian Rohingya refugees from Myanmar were attacked and injured by Muslim Rohingya “due to their faith.” (Rohingya are overwhelmingly Muslim). “[E]arly Monday [January 27, they] attacked us, the Christians. They looted our houses, and beat up many Christian members. At least 12 Christians have been undergoing treatment at different hospitals and clinics,” a Christian named Saiful reported. “We came under attack due to our faith,” he insisted. “On May 10, 11, and 13 last year, this same group of terrorists attacked us. They want us to leave this camp. They have been attacking us systematically.” Although official Bangladeshi reports denied or underplayed the religious dimension of the attacks, other sources, such as the Rohingya Christian Assembly from India, confirmed them: Muslim Rohingya “attacked the whole Christian community in Kutupalong Camp,” the group said. “Approximately 25 Christian families are displaced. It is winter and very cold, the victims have many minor children with them.” The group added that mobs armed with machetes—”hundreds in many groups”—invaded and destroyed every Christian home at night.
Iraq: Four Christian humanitarian aid workers—three French, one Iraqi—were kidnapped in Baghdad on January 20. No ransom demands were made. According to the report, “The four went missing during a time of heightened tensions in Iraq after a U.S. drone strike on Baghdad airport that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and a senior Iraqi militia commander, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. The attack has drawn anger from Iraqi officials from across the political divide …. Iran-backed militia groups have also sworn to avenge the killings.”
Iran: Authorities demolished the grave of the only Christian to be officially executed for apostasy in the Islamic Republic. Born a Muslim, Pastor Soodmand converted to Christianity before the 1979 revolution. He was arrested, tortured, and eventually executed for apostatizing from Islam to Christianity in December 1990. Now, thirty years later, “all that remains of the pastor’s unmarked grave is the soil under which he was once buried.” His daughter, Rashin Soodmand, who now lives in Europe, gave her reaction:
“As a member of the family of this martyred pastor, I can say that the recent disrespect shown to our father’s grave wounded our hearts yet again. Our father was killed cruelly and contrary to the law. They buried him in a place they called la’anatabad [accursed place], without our knowledge, and did not even give our family the opportunity to say goodbye to him, or to see his lifeless body. For years we had to travel to this remote place to visit his unmarked grave, and we were not even allowed to construct a gravestone bearing his name…. We will take our appeal to any relevant national or international institution about this disrespect and cruelty.”
The report adds that,
“Rev Soodmand remains the only Iranian Christian to have been executed for apostasy following an official court order, although others have been sentenced to death including Rev Mehdi Dibaj and Yousef Nadarkhani. Rev Dibaj was eventually acquitted after nine years in prison but then killed in suspicious circumstances five months later. His body was found days after his disappearance, in a park in a suburb of Tehran, with multiple stab wounds to his chest. Yousef Nadarkhani was also eventually acquitted of the charge but later rearrested on the now much more common charge of ‘actions against national security.’ He is now serving a ten-year sentence in Tehran’s Evin Prison.”
Raymond Ibrahim, author of the new book, Sword and Scimitar, Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute, a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and a Judith Rosen Friedman Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
About this Series
While not all, or even most, Muslims are involved, persecution of Christians by extremists is growing. The report posits that such persecution is not random but rather systematic, and takes place irrespective of language, ethnicity, or location.