Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia: Death and danger in the Horn of Africa

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Persecution of Christians intensifies as regional tensions escalate

By Elizabeth Kendal
World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC)
Special to ASSIST News Service

AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- Tensions are rising across the Horn of Africa – there is death and danger. Irredentist Somali Islamists have declared jihad against Ethiopia. Christians are being attacked and murdered by Muslims in Ethiopia. Eritrea, which is accused of arming the Somali Islamists, is exploiting an opportunity and has breached the 2000 cease-fire agreement by moving troops into the Eritrea-Ethiopia border buffer zone. Two Protestant Christians were recently tortured to death in Eritrea. The savagery of persecution appears to be escalating in proportion to regional tensions -- and it could be about to get much worse.

(Irredentist: One who advocates the recovery of territory culturally or historically related to one's nation but presently subject to a foreign government. (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language))


Political and religious tensions have been rising throughout the Horn of Africa ever since Islamists captured Mogadishu, Somalia, in June.

As noted in the 29 July 2006 WEA RLC News & Analysis posting, "Somalia: Igniting jihad in the Horn of Africa" (Link 1), Islamist leaders in Somalia are actively reviving Somali irredentism while simultaneously effecting a massive military build up. The head of Somalia's Supreme Islamic Courts Council (SICC), Sheikh Hassan Dahir 'Aweys, himself a veteran of the failed 1977-78 Ogaden War for a Greater Somalia, has recently publicly voiced his support for the idea of Greater Somalia. He regards Ogaden as Ethiopia-occupied Somali territory. As noted in the July WEA RLC posting, this situation has the potential not only to erupt in regional conflict, but to inflame Islamic zeal, stoke traditional animosities, agitate belligerents and seriously impact and escalate the already perilous situation faced by Christians across the Horn of Africa.

On Monday 16 October, Eritrea moved 1,500 troops and 14 tanks into a security buffer zone established in 2000 after the 2-year border war with Ethiopia. While Ethiopia described this as a "minor provocation" the UN regards it as "a major breach" of the cease-fire agreement reached in 2000. (Link 2)

Stratfor Intelligence reported on 20 October: "Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer said Eritrea is taking advantage of the standoff between the SICC and the Ethiopia-backed transitional federal government to take a swipe at its longtime enemy."

Associated Press writer Les Neuhaus writes, "Relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea have been strained since the peace pact ended their war six years ago, with tensions on the rise because of unrest in Somalia, with Eritrea and Ethiopia supporting opposing factions.

"Eritrea's move [into the buffer zone] may be part of a regional strategy to place military pressure on Ethiopia. The United Nations reported earlier this year that Eritrea has sent weapons to a radical Islamic group that has been increasing its power in Somalia and that opposes Ethiopia's moves to prop up Somalia's internationally backed government.

"By moving troops closer to the border, Eritrea could be aiming to keep Ethiopian troops tied up there so that they cannot move into Somalia. Ethiopia would presumably want to avoid trouble on two fronts, but Eritrea's action raised the threat of renewed war between the feuding neighbors." (Link 3)

Meanwhile on another front tensions are escalating between Ethiopia and Somalia, inflaming Islamic zeal across the region. Islamists, other Muslims, and anti-Western elements who resent the loss of Southern Sudan, are keen to support Somalia, any Muslims – or any belligerents for that matter – against any Christian and any West-allied force.
Somali Islamists continue to actively recruit youths for jihad against Ethiopia. Chief registration officer Sheikh Abdulrahman Abdulle told Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) the Islamists would provide the recruits with military training, as well as arms and vehicles. (Link 4)

Stratfor Intelligence reported on 19 October: "Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi accused Somalian fighters Oct. 19 of coming within nine miles of the Ethiopian border backed by troops from Indonesia, Pakistan, the Arab world and other African countries. Zenawi said the troop movement threatens Ethiopia's sovereignty and that 'if these groups attempt to violate our border our defense forces will be obliged to hit back exercising the right of self-defense.'" Another source names Egyptian and Libyan military elements as working with the Islamic Courts Union. (Link 5)


JIJIGA, the capital of Ethiopia's Somali Ogaden region, is about 720 kilometres due east of the capital Addis Ababa, towards the Somalia border. In May, Muslim youths in Jijiga stoned the homes and businesses of Christians after taking offence at what they claimed was the desecration of the Koran. (Link 6)

HENNO is in southern Ethiopia, 404 kilometres South of Addis Ababa, towards the Kenyan border. According to International Christian Concern (ICC), Islamic leaders, angry about the conversion of two prominent Muslims in 2005, have reportedly been urging Muslims in the area to kill full-time Christian evangelists. ICC reports that on 20 July 2006, seven Muslim clerics brutally attacked 50 or more Christians, seriously injuring twelve. Local Muslims in Henno have so far been rejecting their leaders' calls to violence. (Link 7)

DEMBI is a small village 90 kilometres northwest of Jimma (which is about 350 kilometres west of Addis Ababa) towards the Sudan border. Muslims in Dembi had allegedly told the Christians that they would not let them celebrate Meskel this year because it was "their [Muslim] land". Meskel ("cross" in Amharic) is an annual Orthodox festival commencing mid September which marks the arrival of Spring.

When the Orthodox Christians in Dembi did celebrate Meskel the Muslims rioted. According to news agency Reuters, four days of religious conflict in early October left three religious centres and some 800 houses burned, more than 100 displaced, numerous people injured and 10 dead. The Islamic Affairs Supreme Council of Ethiopia claimed that nine Muslims were killed. Council vice-president Elias Redman said that most of the Muslims in the area practise the ultra-conservative Wahhabi brand of Islam. Religious conflict resumed on the weekend of 14 – 15 October, resulting in a further five deaths.

Local officials said they are growing increasingly concerned about conflict between faiths. A local official of the Orthodox Church said, "This is a very worrying situation for us. These things never used to happen but they seem to be starting now." (Link 6)

Reformatorisch Dagblad gives a more detailed account of the Meskel riot: "Within a matter of two days, they [armed 'Muslim fundamentalists'] had burned over 350 homes belonging to Christians, killed 31 Christians, and taken dozens as hostages, according to local church leaders. Muslim attackers burned one Catholic church, one Orthodox church, and three evangelical churches. The latter are part of the 75-year-old Kale Heywet Church (EKHC), which began under the missionary influence of what was then known as Sudan Interior Mission and now includes over 5 million Ethiopian believers. Attackers quickly converted five local EKHC churches into mosques.

"Local church leaders estimate that nearly 3,000 Christians have been displaced. Last week they hastily organized themselves into five camps for protection and to share food and other supplies. The humanitarian relief group Samaritan's Purse has provided $50,000 in emergency food aid to the displaced." (Link 8)


Compass Direct's most recent News Flash on Eritrea gives insight into the escalating savagery of the persecution suffered there by Christians. (Link 9)

Compass Direct (CD) reports that on 15 October 2006, Immanuel Andegergesh (23) and Kibrom Firemichel (30) were arrested while attending a religious service in a private home south of Asmara. The ten Christians worshipping with them (three women and seven men), all members of the evangelical Rema Church, were also arrested.

CD reports that the Christians were detained in a military camp outside the town of Adi-Quala and, according to one source, were subjected to "furious mistreatment". On 17 October, Andegergesh and Firemichel died in custody as a result of dehydration and torture inflicted by Eritrean security police. The fate of the other ten believers is as yet unknown.

According to CD, Andegergesh and Firemichel had been performing their military service in a southern Eritrean town close to the Ethiopian border.

CD also reports that Eritrean-born American citizen Aregahaje Woldeselasie (early 60s) and his assistant, a married man identified only as Mushie, were arrested on 4 October and have been held in Asmara's Police Station 5. CD reports: "Woldeselasie has been working with Nehemiah Ministry International in Eritrea since 1991, providing leadership training to new congregations."

Furthermore: "Earlier this month, Eritrean authorities returned popular Christian singer Helen Berhane to military detention after she spent three days in Asmara's Halibet Hospital for medical treatment. Berhane's leg had been seriously damaged as a result of beatings she received while imprisoned in a metal shipping container since her arrest in May 2004."

And: "In its apparent campaign to bring all religious groups under its control, the government of Eritrea has recently focused its efforts on schools run by religious groups."

As reported by CD on 8 September: "A total of 35 pastors, priests and church elders are confirmed under arrest in Asmara's Wongel Mermera investigation center. An additional 1,758 Christians of both evangelical Protestant and Orthodox confessions are jailed in 14 other cities and towns." Eritrea is one of the world's most serious religious liberty violators.


Islamic irredentism is threatening Ethiopia – and Eritrea knows an opportunity when it presents. As the tensions rise, Christians throughout the Horn of Africa are likely to face increased hostility from zealous Muslims and belligerents such as agitated Eritrean security police. If war breaks out between Somali irredentist Islamists and Ethiopia, and between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the situation for Christians throughout the region will be diabolical.

Elizabeth Kendal


1) Somalia: Igniting jihad in the Horn of Africa.
By Elizabeth Kendal, WEA RLC. 29 July 2006

2) U.N. Accuses Eritrea Cease-Fire Breach
16 October 2006. By Edith M. Lederer. UN (AP)

3) Ethiopia, Eritrea trade accusations of peace-deal violations
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Oct. 17, 2006
By LES NEUHAUS Associated Press Writer

4) Somalia Islamists recruit hundreds after call for jihad on Ethiopia
Mogadishu (dpa) 18 Oct 2006

5) Ethiopia: Somalian Fighters Near Border
STRATFOR. 19 October 2006

Will Somalia be the final battle between Islam and the West?
18 Oct 18, 2006, 11:16 By Charles Onyango_Obbo

6) Muslims, Christians clash in western Ethiopia, 5 Killed
6 October 2006. Addis Ababa.
15 killed in Ethiopia’s sectarian violence
16 October 2006
Nine Muslims dead in Ethiopia riots with Christians
AFP, 6 October 2006, ADDIS ABABA

7) Muslims Attack Christians in Henno, Ethiopia

8) Holy war against Horn of Africa rival Ethiopia
Reformatorisch Dagblad . 13 Oct 2006

9) Two Eritrean Christians Tortured to Death
Special to Compass Direct. 18 Oct 2006