Bloodstained festive season underscores growing persecution
By: Stefan J. Bos
Special Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
BAGHDAD, IRAQ (ANS) -- Iraq's beleaguered Christian minority has ushered in the New Year amid grief and fears, after several bombs exploded and at least one believer was killed on a marketplace, ASSIST News Service learned Tuesday January 6.
In Basra, about 560 kilometers (350 miles) south of Baghdad, Christians "are grieving the loss of Bashir Toma Elias who was shot in cold blood in the middle of a market place" on Christmas Eve, said Barnabas Fund, a Christian human rights watch dog.
"Elias was doing last minute Christmas shopping before going home to celebrate with his wife and five children. He was killed with a single shot aimed directly at his head," the organization said.
Journalists covering the story were reportedly told they too would be killed if they continued to talk to "those Christians", Barnabas Fund said. Earlier last year Christian women were attacked and several of them have been killed, ANS established in Iraq.
"In Basra in the south there is a high concentration of the Shiite Muslims. They even threaten Christian women to cover their heads," added Saleh Fakhouri, Iraq Co-ordinator of the Jordan based Manara Book Ministries, a relief and Christian literature distribution organization.
"If she was walking without covering her head she would be punished in the middle of the street," he said about the Christian women in Basra. "This is only the beginning of clear interference in the people's daily lives," Fakhouri explained.
There are fears among the estimated 100,000 Christians in Basra that Shi’a militia groups, with names like "God’s Vengeance", will not rest until all Christians have either left Basra or converted to Islam, said Barnabas Fund. About 2,000 Christian families reportedly already fled the region.
MIRACLES IN MISERY
Pressure is also increasing on a pre-dominantly Christian district of Baghdad after five people died there when a New Years Eve celebration in a restaurant was rocked by a car bomb explosion. "It is not certain that this attack was specifically anti-Christian," said Barnabas Fund, although believers do not rule this out.
But there were apparent miracles in the misery, the organization suggested, as Christians "narrowly escaped carnage" when a bomb went off in their church at Christmas.
"The congregation had just celebrated the birth of their Lord with a traditional service when the bomb exploded. Thankfully no one was hurt, but the blast shattered church windows and caused other damage," said Barnabas Fund, which has contacts in the region.
ANOTHER BOMB DISCOVERED
A week later, as the New Year was ushered in, another bomb was apparently discovered at St. George’s monastery in Mosul, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of Baghdad. "Again, in the face of potential tragedy, the Christian community had cause to be thankful as it was defused before it detonated."
However attacks had forced several churches to postpone Christmas and other festive service, ANS learned. Barnabas Fund made clear the violence against Iraq's up to one million Christians underscores growing Muslim violence against believers in the post September 11 world, citing several other attacks in recent weeks.
In the Philippines two bombs were discovered outside a cathedral and 10 were reportedly killed when another bomb exploded, apparently aimed at a local Christian mayor, while in Pakistan a Christian minister was shot dead.
This week Egypt's army attacked a Christian centre that cares for mentally and physically disabled children, killing one employee, several human rights workers said. Barnabas Fund has urged Christians around the world to pray for suffering Christians in especially Iraq and other mainly Muslim nations.
It claimed however there were some signs of hope in the world at the beginning of 2004. Barnabas Fund said that despite one bomb exploding in Poso, Central Sulawesi, Christians in Indonesia were grateful that a feared campaign of bombing did not materialize.