Wednesday, November 24, 2010

083. November Update; Incl. Afghanistan, Bhutan, Laos, Pakistan, Syria

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 083 | Wed 24 Nov 2010

NOVEMBER 2010 UPDATE -- During November we prayed concerning . . .

BURMA, where the fraudulent elections produced a landslide victory for the pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) -- the military junta in civilian clothes. This will doubtless be presented as a mandate for the junta's violent subjugation of its long-suffering ethnic minorities. The regime is demanding that ethnic groups' defence forces be assimilated into the centrally controlled Border Guard Force (BGF). Groups that continue to resist this demand are destined to be deemed insurgents, separatists and subversives, and will be attacked with overwhelming force in the name of 'democracy and reconciliation'.

* UPDATE: The breakaway 5th Brigade of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) clashed with Burmese forces in the wake of the elections (RLPB 081) and has been given 31 December 2010 as its deadline to disarm and join the BGF. On Tuesday 9 November (two days after the elections) Baptist Pastor Mang Tling (47) of Dawdin village in north-west Chin State was summoned before the military junta's hand-picked electoral commission. A pro-USDP village headman had taken revenge on the pastor for his refusal to wear a pro-USDP tee-shirt by falsely accusing him of encouraging Christians to vote for the opposition. After five days of interrogation, Pastor Mang Tling was released with orders to stop holding worship services and to close down the church's nursery program. (The Chin are estimated to be around 90 percent Christian. Chin State has a profoundly Christian culture and identity which the pro-Burman, pro-Buddhist junta has long sought to undermine.)

IRAQ, where Islamic jihad, terrorism, hatred and intolerance specifically targeting Iraq's Christian community is escalating. The legacy of this war may well be the genocide of Iraq's indigenous Christian peoples. Iraq's Christian remnant is under siege and desperately needs refuge.

* UPDATE: On Monday 22 November gunmen broke into a welding shop in west Mosul owned by brothers Saad Hanna (43) and Waad Hanna (40), both Syrian Catholic Christians, and shot them dead. In a separate incident, an elderly Assyrian woman was found that evening strangled in her home in central Mosul. Islamic fundamentalists and jihadists want Christians out of Iraq, hence the terror. Meanwhile, those keen to present Iraq as a successful democracy and example of Muslim-Christian co-existence want the reality covered up, hence the silence.

EGYPT, where high level Islamic incitement against the Coptic Church is creating an extremely volatile and dangerous situation. Emboldened by years of impunity, radicalised Muslims are escalating their pogroms against Egypt's indigenous Coptic Christians. On 15 November some 1000 Muslims rioted in the village of el-Nowahed, Upper Egypt after hearing a rumour that a Christian boy had been seen with a Muslim girl. They burnt businesses, livestock and 22 homes of Copts. The next day fields and irrigation machinery belonging to Copts were also torched.

* UPDATE: Reportedly, Egyptian State Security forces have pressured thirteen of el-Nowahed's Coptic families to sign papers stating that the fires were an 'Act of Fate' and were extinguished by security and by village Muslims. According to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), police have been gathering the names of Coptic youths, presumably to use as leverage in a 'reconciliation' session where Copts will be forced to give up their rights and accept total injustice in exchange for 'peace'. Meanwhile the Christians are too fearful to leave their burnt out homes in search of food and shelter lest they be slaughtered. Hossam Noel Attallah (19), the Christian boy accused of being in a relationship with a Muslim girl, is in the military hospital in Qena receiving treatment after being arrested and tortured by State Security. The situation in Egypt is absolutely appalling and deteriorating rapidly.


NOV 2010 ROUND-UP -- also this month . . .

* AFGHANISTAN: The trial of Afghan Christian convert Said Musa (see RLPBs 059 and 082) has been delayed until next Sunday, 28 November 2010. Christian groups, Jubilee Campaign and Advocates International, are confronted by numerous obstacles as they try to get a lawyer to Musa. Please pray for God to overcome all obstacles. Pray also for the faith, health, strength, security and witness of Said Musa and the other Christian prisoners.

* BHUTAN: PUNISHED FOR SHOWING JESUS FILM

On 6 October Prem Singh Gurung, an ethnic-Nepali Bhutanese citizen, was charged with 'attempting to promote civil unrest' and sentenced to three years jail for screening films about Jesus. Whilst Gurung did violate a Bhutanese law requiring authorities to examine all films before public screening, the charge itself is false and the sentence extremely harsh. International Christian Concern reported on 12 November that two other Bhutanese Christians have gone into hiding after learning the authorities are seeking them in relation to similar charges. As Bhutan opens up to the world and is in transition from a Buddhist monarchy to a constitutional democracy, religious liberty is destined to be its greatest challenge.

* LAOS: MORE CHRISTIANS FACING EXPULSION

In January 2010 village officials and local security forces expelled 11 Christian families at gunpoint from Katin village, southern Laos, simply for their Christian faith. That was after months of persecution that included property confiscations, detentions and the torture-murder of a Christian villager. Despite that, two more Katin families subsequently committed to following Jesus Christ. The expelled Christian families have been struggling with disease and hunger in shelters they have erected on the edge of the jungle. They were told in July they may only return to the village if they give up their faith. Otherwise they have been warned if they try to return as Christians they will be shot. Subsequent to this, four more Katin families accepted Christ. The Katin chief and local security approached these six new Christian families in early November with the ultimatum: give up the Christian faith before January 2011 or face expulsion. Please pray for Laos' severely persecuted Church.

* PAKISTAN: BLASPHEMY ISSUE IS EXPLOSIVE

On 19 June 2009 Aasia Bibi (45), a Christian mother of five, dipped her cup into a bucket of drinking water. When Muslim women subsequently complained that the water was now contaminated (by being touched by a Christian) the offended Bibi commented derisively that Muhammad was no prophet. Consequently she was jailed for blasphemy. The death sentence she received on 8 November 2010 attracted international outrage. Even if she were to be pardoned, Aasia Bibi's life would still be seriously imperilled as Christians accused of blasphemy are usually killed by Islamic vigilantes who enforce Sharia with impunity. However, top Deobandi and Barelvi clerics have joined forces in warning President Asif Ali Zadari against granting Bibi a discretionary pardon, saying that 'such a decision will lead to untoward repercussions'. The organisations represented and influenced by these clerics control many thousands of Islamic seminaries across Pakistan, mostly in Punjab. The situation in Pakistan is explosive. Please pray.

* SYRIA: REPRESSION TARGETS PROTESTANTS

Over recent years the number of Iraqi Christian refugees in Syria has boomed. Consequently numerous foreign Christian humanitarian ministries -- mostly American and South Korean -- have entered Syria to respond to the desperate need. Now the regime in Damascus has introduced repressive measures, supposedly to counter Protestant proselytising. According to Ya Libnan (Lebanon), the main trigger for the crackdown was Syrian Catholic and Orthodox leaders' complaints about Protestant 'sheep stealing'. The delicately positioned Alawite-led government is desperate to preserve 'religious harmony' (read: the political status quo) and so is appeasing Muslim, Catholic and Orthodox resentment. Hence the government is not renewing the visas of foreigners serving Protestant churches; is closing down independent local and foreign-sponsored Protestant worship held in 'unsanctioned' premises and is cancelling Protestant events. Please pray for wisdom, grace and courage.

'Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.' (Matthew 10:16 ESV)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

082. Iraq &Egypt: al-Qaeda declares war on Christians (plus Afghanistan)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 082 | Wed 17 Nov 2010

IRAQ & EGYPT: AL-QAEDA DECLARES WAR ON CHRISTIANS

BACKGROUND IN EGYPT:
In July 2010 Camilia Shehata Zakher disappeared after a quarrel with her husband, a Coptic priest in Minya Governorate. Unaware that she was with relatives in Cairo, he reported her missing and accused Muslims of abducting her for forced conversion, a fate not uncommon for Coptic girls in Egypt. When Egyptian Security Forces found Camilia in Cairo and returned her to her husband, Muslims protested, claiming that Camilia was now Muslim and was being held by the church against her will. One fundamentalist sheikh claimed to have heard her say the shahada, the declaration of Muslim faith. Digitally edited photos purportedly of Camilia in full Islamic dress started appearing on the web. Islamic militants urged that Christian tourists be kidnapped and killed in retaliation. On 1 September a Mauritanian cleric issued a fatwa permitting the killing of Egyptian Copts. Camilia came to be personifying the Muslim fantasy of Coptic girls converting to Islam and of the church as causing fitna or persecution.

Then on 8 September Camilia appeared on national TV denouncing the rumours of torture, drugs and captivity. 'I am appearing,' she said, 'in order to defend my husband, my child, my church and my religion which is Christianity.' Fundamentalist sheikhs subsequently claimed the woman on the TV was not Camilia, but her 'double'. Egyptian State Security immediately refuted this and the Chairman of the Committee of Declaration of Islam at Al-Azhar University, Sheikh Saeed Amer, stepped in and denied that Camilia ever came to Al-Azhar or that her case ever came before him. Islamist propagandists subsequently asserted that Camilia was kidnapped by State Security forces while on her way to Al-Azhar to formalise her conversion. The Islamists claim therefore the State actually prevented her conversion to Islam. The truth is: Camilia is a Christian who never converted to Islam. The Camilia of Islamic fantasy -- the convert to Islam who is suffering persecution at the hand of the church -- is a myth. Nevertheless this totally debunked myth is being used as incitement and as an excuse to kill Christians.

INCITEMENT IN EGYPT; DEADLY CONSEQUENCES IN IRAQ.

On 15 September, as religious tensions soared, the former secretary-general of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, Muhammad Salim al-Awwa, raged on Aljazeera international TV, falsely accusing Egypt's Copts of 'stocking arms and ammunition in their churches and monasteries' in preparation for war against Muslims. He also perpetuated the lie that the Coptic Church was holding female Coptic converts to Islam captive in desert monasteries (RLPB 079, 27 Oct 2010). As the rhetoric escalated, riots multiplied, forcing the government to urge media restraint for the sake of national unity. Then on 31 October ten al-Qaeda militants in Iraq laid siege to a Syrian Catholic Church in Baghdad. Fifty-eight died and more than 70 were wounded in the subsequent massacre. In claiming responsibility, the al-Qaeda-linked 'Islamic State of Iraq' gave Egypt's Coptic Church 48 hours to release from captivity Camilia Shehata and Wafa Constantine, an almost identical case from 2004. Otherwise jihadists would retaliate against Christians everywhere (RLPB 080, 3 Nov 2010). The incitement in Egypt being linked to the massacre in Baghdad and the threat from al-Qaeda shocked Egypt, prompting restraint there and temporarily settling the situation somewhat.

Nothing, however, has settled in Iraq. On 9 November three Christian homes were bombed at night in the suburb of Mansour, western Baghdad. The following morning two Christian homes in al-Dora were hit by mortar fire. Bombs also exploded outside a church in Kampsara and outside about a dozen Christian homes across Baghdad. At least four Christians were killed and dozens were wounded and terrorised. The targeted homes could be seen to be Christians because of funeral notices and visible Christian insignia. Then on Monday evening 15 November Islamic militants in the northern city of Mosul stormed two adjacent homes of Christian families in the eastern al-Tahrir neighbourhood and killed the two male heads of those households, a Syrian Catholic and an Armenian. Almost simultaneously a bomb exploded outside a Christian home in central Mosul. The next day a Christian man and his daughter aged six were killed by a car bomb in Mosul. This terror has led to a surge in Christians fleeing Iraq. They will join the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians struggling to survive as refugees in Syria, Turkey and Jordan. They no longer see any reason to risk their lives for a state where, even if they survive, they will be condemned to live as second class citizens (dhimmis).

In Egypt, the lives of Copts are conditionally 'protected' as dhimmis. This means they will not be killed and plundered provided they submit to the injustice, persecution and humiliation inherent in abject subjugation under superior Islam. After years of impunity for attacks on Copts, their security is now extremely tenuous. On Monday 15 November 22 homes, two commercial shops, a bakery, and livestock, all belonging to Copts, were burnt when Muslims -- reportedly nearly 1000 -- rioted in the Upper Egyptian village of el-Nowahed after hearing a rumour that a Christian boy was in a relationship with a Muslim girl. (According to the rules of Islam, a Christian boy may not approach a Muslim girl but must convert to Islam first.)

Due to years of radicalisation and the re-establishment of dhimmitude, the situation in Egypt is now pre-genocidal. Meanwhile the situation in Iraq is undoubtedly genocidal, partly because Iraq has become a base for foreign-sponsored sectarian Islamic militias. Additionally there is the factor that, as a Western experiment in Islamic democracy (like Lebanon previously), the West doesn't want to see or admit failure in Iraq. Especially that would challenge the West's firmly held belief that democracy -- as distinct from the Gospel of Jesus Christ -- is the solution to noble (rather than sinful) humanity's problems.

The West must end the denial and be responsible for securing and rescuing Iraq's Christian remnant. Once US troops withdraw and the 'real' war begins, it will be too late.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO:

* level the paths, open the doors and provide safe passage for all Iraqi Christians fleeing Islamic terror and genocide for what may be an extended period of exile.

* draw the hearts and minds of all Iraqi Christians to him, that they might put their faith in him alone, for he is their only hope.

'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me . . . Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one the least of these, you did not do it to me.' (From Matthew 25:40,45 ESV.)

* intervene in Egypt, to still the brewing storm; may all Egypt's Christians -- Copts and Arab converts -- look to Christ and put their faith in him alone, for he is their only hope.

* frustrate the plots and programs of the wicked, while pricking the conscience of the alliance states to Christian duty and moral obligation that they might respond with commitment and generosity to the humanitarian catastrophe that is befalling Iraqi Christians.

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PLEASE PRAY ALSO about the Sunday 21 November trial of Afghan Christian convert, Said Musa (45), in Kabul. This husband and father of six was arrested in the sweep of late May 2010, after film emerged of Afghan Christians being baptised and worshipping in 'Western safe-houses' in Kabul (see RLPB 059, 9 June 2010, Afghanistan: Christians menaced as Karzai woos Taliban). Said has reportedly been severely tortured and forced to renounce Christ, a renunciation he subsequently recanted. He is also being mocked and violently abused in prison for his faith. A state-assigned lawyer has refused to represent him because he is a Christian and no other lawyer is willing to. According to Compass Direct News 'Dr. Musa' (as he is known), himself an amputee, has worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kabul for 15 years fitting people for prosthetic limbs.

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AL-QAEDA DECLARES WAR ON CHRISTIANS IN IRAQ

When claiming responsibility for the 31 October church massacre in Baghdad, the al-Qaeda-linked 'Islamic State of Iraq' threatened to retaliate against Christians everywhere unless Egypt's Coptic Church released its alleged captives. The myth -- that Coptic converts to Islam are being held captive in Coptic churches (supposedly along with stockpiles of Israeli weapons) -- has been propagated by Egyptian Islamic fundamentalists keen to incite massacres of Copts. This situation in Egypt is extremely volatile. Meanwhile, genocide is unfolding in Iraq. On 9-10 November, over a dozen Christian homes and one church were targeted with bombs and mortar shells across Baghdad, killing four and wounding many. On 15-16 November, more bombs targeting Christians exploded in Mosul while two Christians were executed in their homes by militants. Please pray!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

081. Burma (Myanmar): fighting erupts in Karen State

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 081 | Wed 10 Nov 2010

BURMA (MYANMAR): FIGHTING ERUPTS IN KAREN STATE

Burma's Kachin and Chin peoples are around 90 percent Christian, while the larger Karenni and Karen groups are up to 40 percent Christian. The Burmese Buddhist majority has long persecuted these peoples on racial and religious grounds. Consequently the long-suffering minorities who live in the hills around Burma's periphery want autonomy so they can maintain their culture and worship in liberty. Meanwhile the junta, promoting ethnic Burman and Buddhist nationalism and supremacy, covets the ethnic groups' lands for logging, hydro-electric power, jade mining and the like. And the regime is not averse to 'ethnic cleansing'.

As noted in last week's Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin, the sole purpose of Burma's fraudulent 7 November elections was to legitimise the regime and provide it with a mandate to impose its will. (See: RLPB 080, 'Burma (Myanmar): Christians at risk of post-election violence'.)

Anticipating the hostilities, leaders from six of Burma's largest armed ethnic groups met in the Thai-Burma town of Mae Hong Son on Tuesday 4 November and agreed to join forces if any one of them should come under attack after the 7 November elections. Exiled Burmese media 'Mizzima' reported: 'The alliance comprises ceasefire groups, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), New Mon State Party (NMSP) and Shan State Army North (SSA-N); and non-ceasefire groups, the Karen National Union (KNU), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) and Chin National Front (CNF). It named Kachin Independence Army (KIA) chief Major General N-Ban La Aung as its chairman.'

The Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) -- officially allied to the regime -- has long been exploited by the junta as a proxy force to fight the mostly Christian Karen National Union (KNU). However, splits have emerged in the DKBA ranks over the issue of being assimilated into the centrally controlled Border Guard Force (BGF). Burma Campaign UK reports that on 7 November a rebel faction of the DKBA occupied Myawaddy Town in Karen State on the border with Thailand. They claimed to be defending civilians who were being threatened by the Burmese Army and being forced to vote for the pro-regime Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

At 9 am on Monday 8 November the Burmese Army began shelling DKBA positions in Myawaddy, sending some 20,000 Karen fleeing across the Thai border. Fighting between the DKBA (which is rejecting the election results) and the Burmese Army also erupted at Payathonzu. Significantly the DKBA, with the support of Mon fighters and defecting Border Guard Forces (BGF), has secured control of Three Pagodas Pass, a strategic border crossing between Burma and Thailand. The KNU has vowed to assist their former foe, the DKBA, in its battle against the junta should the need arise. After discussions with the regime, Thai authorities agreed to return the refugees. By Wednesday 10 November, most of the refugees had returned to Myawaddy which is now in the hands of the Burmese Army. These skirmishes have the potential to escalate into full-blown civil war. Should that happen, the junta's goal would doubtless be either ethnic cleansing or total subjugation of the minorities.

In November 2008 the junta, which has nuclear ambitions, reportedly signed a Memorandum of Understanding with North Korea, formalising military co-operation. While heavily-invested China welcomed the 7 November 2010 elections as 'a step forward', Burma's other neighbours, Thailand and India, have remained silent, preferring to distance themselves from Burma's 'internal affairs' (read: human rights abuses). Abandoned by their neighbours and imperilled at home, the Christian peoples of Burma desperately need our prayers.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* draw his imperilled people close to him that they may know peace in his loving presence.

* hear their prayers and intervene in Burma to bring an end to decades of terror and bloodshed, for the sake of his Body and for the glory of his own holy name.

Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; protect me from those who rise up against me, deliver me from those who work evil, and save me from bloodthirsty men. (Psalm 59:1,2 ESV)

* give Burma's Christian leaders great spiritual wisdom, discernment, authority and strength, that they might provide spiritual wisdom, comfort and direction -- not only to the Lord's people but to all Burmese caught up in these challenging times.

International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
: 14 November 2010

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BURMA: FIGHTING ERUPTS IN KAREN STATE

Burma's ethnic Kachin and Chin peoples (90 percent Christian) and the Karreni and Karen groups (40 percent Christian) want autonomy, primarily to maintain their culture and to worship in liberty. However, the Burman Buddhist junta wants total control of their lands and resources, and saw the 7 November elections giving it that mandate. On polling day a military faction opposed to the junta occupied the Karen town, Myawaddy, on the Thai border, to defend its citizens threatened by the junta and being forced to vote for a pro-regime party. The Burmese Army responded with heavy artillery, forcing some 20,000 Karen to flee into Thailand. Thai officials have since forced the refugees back to Myawaddy, now occupied by the junta. Civil war looms. Please pray for the Church in Burma.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

080. Burma: Christians at risk of post-election violence. (plus Iraq)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 080 | Wed 03 Nov 2010

BURMA (MYANMAR): CHRISTIANS AT RISK OF POST-ELECTION VIOLENCE; plus Iraq

Burma's ruling military junta ruthlessly promotes ethnic (Burman) and religious (Buddhist) supremacy and nationalism while repressing, even violently crushing, all political opposition.

The ethnic minority peoples who live in the hills around Burma's periphery are mostly Christian and are persecuted by the junta on ethnic, religious and political grounds. Because of their immense suffering, these groups do not trust the regime and are seeking autonomy. Ethnic minority groups, including those who have signed cease-fire agreements with the junta, consequently are unwilling to have their defence forces disarmed and absorbed into a national Border Guard Force (BGF). These groups include the Kachin in the north, of whom some 90 percent are devout Christians. They are simply unwilling to entrust their security to a centrally-controlled force dominated by the same Burmese soldiers that have spent decades indiscriminately enslaving, raping, torturing and massacring their people.

Shrewdly the regime has made disarmament a condition of participation in the Sunday 7 November elections. While this sounds reasonable, it is actually a strategy by which reasonable fears are exploited to disenfranchise multitudes. However, that will not make much difference, as one quarter of all seats are reserved for appointed military personnel anyway, and the main Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP: a front for the ruling junta) is fielding more than three times as many candidates as all 35 opposition parties combined. Thus the election result -- a convincing win to the junta -- is a foregone conclusion.

The sole purpose of the exercise is to 'legitimise' the regime so it can claim a 'mandate' to forcibly subjugate the ethnic-religious minorities. Recently the regime falsely and provocatively labelled the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) as 'insurgents'. This is pure propaganda as the KIA maintains a cease-fire agreement with the regime. Reportedly the junta has just purchased some 50 Mi-24 combat-ready helicopters and 12 Mi-2 armoured transport helicopters from Russia which they have positioned in readiness in the northern and central regions of the state. According to one Kachin church leader, 'After the election process, we ethnic minorities can be crushed.'

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* fix the eyes of Burma's long-suffering minority Christians onto Jesus (Hebrews 12:2,3) and draw the Church into prayer. 'I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.'

* intervene in Burma to deliver his Church from evil.

'O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.'
(Psalm 10:17,18 ESV)

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CHRISTIANS IN BURMA AT RISK OF POST-ELECTION VIOLENCE

Burma will hold elections on Sunday 7 November 2010. The result is a foregone conclusion: a convincing win to the ruling regime. The purpose of the exercise is to give the ethnic Burman and Buddhist military junta a facade of legitimacy so it can claim a mandate to subjugate forcibly the state's long-suffering and severely persecuted ethnic minorities, many of whom are predominantly Christian. Having suffered severely over decades at the hands of the Burmese military, the minority peoples no longer trust the regime and are seeking autonomy as a means of guaranteeing their human rights and religious freedom. The regime has labelled the minorities 'insurgents', and many believe the regime will launch an offensive against them after the elections. Please pray for Burma's threatened Christian peoples.

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PLEASE PRAY ALSO FOR IRAQ'S IMPERILLED CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY

On Sunday 31 October gunmen affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq, a militant organisation connected to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, stormed a Syriac Catholic church in Baghdad. First they executed Rev. Saad Abdal Tha'ir, the leading priest, then they sprayed bullets through the congregation. Having secured around 100 Christians hostage, they called for the release of jailed al Qaeda members. According to the group's website, they specifically targeted the church (which they referred to as a 'dirty den of idolatry') in response to anti-Christian incitement emanating from Egypt (see last week's RLPB 079). Indeed the group has vowed to 'exterminate Iraqi Christians' unless two Coptic women, both wives of Coptic priests who Muslims claim have been converted to Islam, are not freed from their alleged captivity. When the militants started executing hostages after a stand-off of several hours, the Iraqi military stormed the church. The militants responded by unleashing a bloodbath using automatic rifles, grenades and at least two militants detonating suicide bomb vests packed with ball-bearings.

Of the 58 dead, 47 were Christians, including three priests. At least 78 were wounded. Iraq's indigenous, historic, traumatised, imperilled and dwindling Christian community is in mourning. We must not forget them. Please pray for mercy, deliverance and perseverance in faith.