Kosovo church reports sectarian attack

Thursday, May 18, 2000

18 May 2000 (Newsroom) -- A Pentecostal church in the Kosovo capital was raided by self-proclaimed Islamic militants, according to the Keston News Service. Christians in the Muslim-majority province of Serbia say they have been the targets of attacks since Serbian troops withdrew last June.

Nine masked gunmen broke into the Assemblies of God Church in Prishtina in the middle of the night, threatened church members who had been sleeping in the building, and left with a considerable amount of money and equipment. The intruders, who claimed to represent the Kosovo branch of an organization linked to Saudi terrorist Osama bin Ladin, daubed the door and the walls of the church building with Islamic slogans, Keston said.

The United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) police force, which has primary responsibility for law and order in the Prishtina region, said, however, that the case is being treated as robbery and vandalism, rather than as an ethnic crime. No suspects have been identified, police said.

Pastor Artur Krasniqi, who was bound and gagged along with three other church members, said the April 29th break-in was the third since June and the worst so far. The intruders threatened one church member at gunpoint to renounce his Christian faith in favor of Islam, but he refused, Krasniqi said.

Prishtina's daily newspapers gave extensive front-page attention to the story, the pastor said. The church, called The Fellowship of the Lord's People, has appealed to the European Union and the United States to help prevent further attacks.

Kosovo's small population of Christians is mostly Catholic, with a tiny fraction Protestant. Most of the Serbs who remain in Kosovo identify themselves as Serbian Orthodox.

A number of Protestant leaders have reported attacks on places of worship in other areas of Kosovo, Keston said. Bekim Beka, pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church in Prishtina, told Keston on May 10 of an incident in the Italian sector in southwestern Kosovo. "There is a huge campaign against evangelical Christians in Kosovo," Beka claimed.

UMNIK spokesman Charley Johnson told Keston that "attacks on religious buildings are not rare, but are not exceptionally prevalent." Johnson said the primary targets have been Serbian Orthodox churches.

Krasniqi says he fears for the future of Christians in Kosovo. The pastor says his church has received anonymous phone calls threatening to kill the members and burn down the building. The monthly Islamic magazine Dituria Islame (Islamic Knowledge) publishes at least one article against the church in each issue, he says. "They never forget to mention that in Kosova lots and lots of money is poured in, so this is a kind of inspiration for the criminals to attack Christians with the assurance they will find money."

Krasniqi says that UNMIK has offered little help on the case, but according to Keston the U.N. police force has promised to review the three raids on the church in the past year. British members of the NATO peacekeeping troops (KFOR) have promised to help investigate, according to Krasniqi.

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