“Such Things Should Not Happen”: Persecution of Christians, April 2020
By Raymond Ibrahim
The following are among the abuses Muslims inflicted on Christians throughout the month of April 2020:
The Slaughter of Christians
Nigeria: The first two days of April opened with machete-wielding Muslim Fulani herdsmen murdered at least 13 Christians. “We woke up to bury seven people burnt to death … from an overnight attack,” one source said. Those killed “are mostly elderly Christians who were unable to escape as members of the community ran into surrounding bushes during the attack.”
Then, on April 7, Muslim Fulani herdsmen slaughtered a pastor and three members of his congregation, including a 10-year-old boy. The pastor, Matthew Tagwai, who was murdered in his home, is survived by a pregnant wife and two small children.
On April 10, Muslim Fulani herdsmen murdered pastor Stephen Akpor, 55. “Two herdsmen came to a branch of our church, Celestial Church … where they shot him as he was praying and counseling five members in the church,” his colleagues said. “The herdsmen shot the pastor several times and then stabbed him to death.” He is survived by his wife and five children.
On April 11, Muslim Fulani herdsmen shot a Christian farmer dead.
On April 13, Muslim Fulani herdsmen decapitated two Christians, in a manner that required them to be “buried without their heads.”
On April 14, Muslim Fulani herdsmen butchered nine Christians, six of whom were children, one a pregnant mother. “They were armed with machetes and AK-47 rifles as they attacked us,” a survivor recalls: “They attacked our village at about 8 p.m., and they were shouting, ‘Allahu Akbar!’ as they shot into our houses.” Thirty-three homes were set ablaze.
On April 16, Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed Sebastine Stephen, a young Christian student. “The Fulani herdsmen were over 50 carrying sophisticated guns and shooting sporadically. After they killed the young man,” a survivor reported, “they then broke into the house of Mr. Jack Nweke and abducted him with his wife, leaving behind their three children.”
On April 19, Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed four Christians. “Thirty-eight houses with 86 rooms were also razed down, while about 87 families are affected,” a source said.
On April 20, “A Christian farmer, Titus Nyitar, was shot to death, and his head was cut off,” an area resident said. Titus was “working on his farm when he was killed by the herdsmen.” Afterwards they “proceeded to the village to burn down houses and kidnapped three villagers.”
On April 22, Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed 12 Christians; earlier, the report notes, they kidnapped a couple as they were being married inside their church.
On April 23, the Fulani “killed two people, kidnapped another and burned down a church building that included the pastor’s home in attacks on predominantly Christian areas in north-central Nigeria.”
“What is the crime of these innocent people against Fulani herdsmen?” a local resident of one of the villages that was ravaged asked. “For how long shall we continue to experience this killing? For how long shall we continue to beg the government and the security agencies to come to the aid of our people?”
Congo: The family of Batsemire Ngulongo Yesse, a Christian pastor and father of eight, who, along with 35 other Christians, was slaughtered at the hands of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an Islamic rebel group that targets Christians, gave the details surrounding his execution in an April 9 report. According to his son,
“Islamic militia armed with machetes came at night and knocked at the door. My father opened the door. They asked him why he had defiled their order of leaving Christianity and becoming a Muslim. He replied that he was raised in a Christian family, became a Christian and baptized in an Anglican church and he cannot convert to another religion. The Islamists threatened to kill him. He said that it is only God who knows the time of his death and if it is time for him to die then he is ready to die a Christian. Then they slaughtered him. I was in another house and I heard all that they were doing. When they had killed my father they left.”
The victim’s widow, who was hiding in the house that night, offered other details: On entering the house, “the people introduced themselves as Muslims…They told him to convert to Islam if he wanted to live. He declined. Right there, they slew his neck and left. He died on the spot.” The man’s son believes that the same Islamic rebel group earlier kidnapped his two brothers, whose fates remain unknown; he adds that “From that time our father used to encourage us to continue serving the local church instead of leaving as many pastors left the region.” Reverend Wilson Kasereka, who knew the slain priest, elaborated on the overall situation:
“The war against Christians has been escalating and people are dying daily… We have lost several pastors that have been serving Christians in Congo and we live in fear because we do not know when the ADF will come for us. We have many refugees…who need a lot of prayers and support.”
Mozambique: On April 7, Islamic terrorists known locally as “al-Shabaab” (“the youth”) and believed to be connected to ISIS, “cruelly and diabolically,” slaughtered 52 villagers in the Christian-majority nation. Although reports do not indicate the religious affiliation of those slaughtered, Mozambique is 60 percent Christian and 19 percent Muslim. The report adds:
“Militants have stepped up attacks in recent weeks as part of a campaign to establish an Islamist caliphate in the gas-rich region, seizing government buildings, blocking roads and briefly hoisting a black-and-white flag carrying religious symbols over towns and villages across Cabo Delgado province. The flag is also used by Isis and other Islamic extremists…. The insurgents have so far mainly targeted isolated villages, killing more than 900 people… The unrest has forced hundreds of thousands of locals to flee and raised concern among big energy firms operating in the region. More than 200,000 people have fled the area hit worst by the violence, according to a local Catholic archbishop, Dom Luiz Fernando.”
Attacks on Churches and Easter Day
United States: On April 14, a Muslim man with a history of anti-Christian hate crimes tried to torch a church. Osama El Hannouny, 25, tried to burn down Sacred Heart Church in Palos Hills, Illinois. Surveillance tapes indicate that he knew the church was occupied. Firefighters quickly managed to extinguish the flames. According to the report, “El Hannouny allegedly scratched, bit and spit at police when they tried to stop him,” and later “wrote a religious slur on the wall of his cell.” Earlier, in November 2019, the Muslim man slashed the tires of 19 vehicles in the parking lots of two other churches (First Baptist and Sts. Helen and Constantine). At that time, when he was arrested, he told police that he had damaged the cars because “I don’t like Christians.” He was then released on $10,000 I-bond with electronic monitoring, which did little to deter his most recent church attack.
Denmark: Around 3:30 am on Easter Sunday, the holiest day for Christians around the world, the Vejleå Church in Ishøj was vandalized with phrases such as, “We conquer Denmark,” and, in Arabic, “There is no God but Allah.” Many Danes were reportedly “stunned” by the graffiti. Police said they had surveillance pictures, but that they were not clear enough to publish. This same church in Ishøj had been vandalized earlier, in 2015, when eight of its large windows were smashed by hurled stones. Such attacks on churches in European regions with large Muslim migrant populations have become increasingly common.
Algeria: For the first time, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) added Algeria to its 2020 annual report on the worst violators of religious freedom around the world. A portion of the report follows:
“In 2019, Algeria escalated its ongoing repression of religious minorities. The government systematically cracked down on the Evangelical Protestant community in particular through a string of church closures and raids, including two of the largest Protestant churches in the country. The current crackdown mirrors the scale of past waves of church closures in 2008 and 2011, and has been ongoing since November 2017 and worsened in 2019. Officials have made arbitrary demands that churches cease all religious activities, accusing them of violating safety regulations, operating illegally, or evangelizing, or giving them other justifications for sealing off their places of worship. The Algerian government forcibly closed three of the country’s largest Protestant churches in October 2019…. The government of Algeria systematically restricts non-Muslims’ ability to register, operate houses of worship, proselytize, and practice their faith in other ways…. Ordinance 06-03 also limits proselytization by prohibiting anyone from ‘shaking the faith of a Muslim.’… These laws are actively used to arrest and charge individuals for proselytism, or for transporting or possessing religious objects such as Bibles.”
Egypt: On April 14, Egyptian security forces were involved in a gunfight with an Islamic terror cell ensconced in an apartment building in Cairo’s Amiriyah district, which is known for holding a large Christian population and several churches. Seven would-be terrorists and one police officer were killed in the shootout. Ammunition and automatic weapons were found and seized from their apartment. The Egyptian ministry confirmed that “the suspects were planning attacks on the country’s Coptic Christians during the Holy Week and Easter Sunday. Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christians, one the world’s oldest Christian communities, would celebrate Easter on April 19.”
Attacks on churches around Easter are not uncommon in Egypt. On April 9, 2017—Palm Sunday, which initiates the holy week of Easter—two Christian churches were bombed during mass; at least 50 worshippers were killed and 130 injured and/or mutilated. Two days later, another terror attack targeting a Christian monastery was thwarted. On April 12, 2015, Easter Sunday, two explosions targeting two separate churches took place in Egypt. Similarly, on Sunday, April 5, 2015, as Christians were celebrating Palm Sunday, yet another church was attacked in Alexandria; gunmen in a vehicle opened fire on the church during the night injuring a police officer and two civilians.
Indonesia: Members of the Islamic Defenders Front raided and violently disbanded a house church meeting consisting of about ten people. According to the report, “Video footage … showed two men bursting into a home, Sunday [April 19] in Cikarang.” One of the attackers, Ustad Muliana, was identified as a senior leader of the Islamic Defenders. The video showed the Muslims threatening the worshippers: “One of them physically attacked Christians with a piece of wood,” the report says, adding:
“Sunday’s incident followed a series of attacks or threats against churches involving Islamic parties or their supporters…. [W]hile Indonesia is officially secular, there has been a rise in politicians demanding a more significant role for Islam. Some groups, such as FPI [Islamic Defenders Front], want to turn Indonesia in a full-blown Islamic state.”
Greece: Muslim migrants in the island of Chios, according to a report, set fires and attacked police beginning on Holy Saturday and into the early morning hours of Easter Sunday, April 19, for the Orthodox. Although riots had erupted earlier, they were exacerbated by a false rumor that an Iraqi woman had died from COVID-19 in Chios, prompting the migrants to hurl stones at police; two cars, tents, a canteen inside of the migrant camp, and houses were burned during the riots. It was later revealed that the woman in question had never even been infected. Chios police arrested three migrants believed to be responsible for inciting the violence.
General Abuse of Christians
Syria: As occurred during the height of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, “jihadist rebels” continue to confiscate Christian properties in the name of “sharia.” According to the report,
“Christians in Idlib province face the injustice of jihadist organizations and violations by Islamic factions, in terms of applying ‘Islamic Sharia law’ to members of different religious communities. Islamic factions are clamping down on them and imposing levies ‘Jizya’ in order to force them to leave their homes to regime-controlled areas.”
Pakistan: In two separate incidents, Muslim men sexually assaulted very young Christian girls. First, a group of Muslims attempted to kidnap Ishrat, aged 9. According to the report,
“The April 9 assault took place while Ishrat was walking in the street in Qutiba. There, a group of Muslim men approached her and asked her to convert to Islam and marry Asim, one of the men in the group. When Ishrat refused, the men beat Ishrat, made derogatory remarks against Ishrat and Christianity, and attempted to kidnap Ishrat. The kidnapping, however, was averted as local villagers intervened. According to Ishrat, another man in the group named Ijaz had been harassing her before the assault. Ishrat claims that Ijaz followed her for a long time in an attempt to develop a physical relationship. Ishrat and her family reported the assault to local police. However, after reporting the incident, a group of armed Muslims attacked Ishrat’s family home. According to Ishrat’s family, the group threatened the family with severe consequences for ‘creating hurdles to their mission.'”
Two days later, on April 11, a Muslim man kidnapped and sexually assaulted Nadia, another Christian girl, aged 7. According to the report,
“Nadia was discovered to be missing at 7pm when her father Boota Masih returned home, and he and other neighbours immediately started to look for her. Ghulam Sabir, a Muslim resident of Talwandi, heard a cry coming from a nearby wheat field. There, Sabir found Nadia, who had been beaten and sexually assaulted, and her attacker Muhammad Shoaib. He tried to escape, but he was caught and taken into police custody.”
Iran: On April 21, Christian convert and human rights activist Mary Mohammadi was sentenced to three months in prison and flogging—above and beyond what she had already experienced — due to her criticism of the regime’s violations against human rights. The 21-year-old presented her side on social media:
“After suffering many types of torture and 46 days in jail in the terrible conditions of Vozara detention and Qarchak Prison [which has a ‘reputation for various types of gender abuse’], I have been sentenced to 3 months and 1 day in prison and 10 lashes.”
Mary added that she was sentenced for protesting “against the slaughter of human beings” and for displaying “sympathy for the families of those who perished on the Ukraine airline crash.” During her hearing, the judge harassed her about her conversion to Christianity even though charges against her had nothing to do with religion. In 2017, Mary spent more than six months in prison for attending an underground church meeting.
Uganda: In two separate instances, Muslims savagely beat two women—a six-months pregnant woman for converting to Christianity, and a Christian girl for evangelizing.
After converting to Christianity and attending church for six weeks, Sylvia Shamimu Nabafa, 27, was spotted by a Muslim neighbor leaving church. He told her father, Haji Juma Suleiman, who proceeded to interrogate his daughter, then six months pregnant: “I did not respond,” she recalls. “He began hitting me with kicks and blows. He then took a blunt object and hit my right leg. I started bleeding, and the next thing I knew, I found myself in the hospital bed at Palissa Health Centre.” According to local church elder:
“At the moment she needs support and encouragements as she recalls the ordeal she has gone through after giving her life to Jesus Christ. At times I find her weeping. She needs food, clothes, medication and hospital check-ups.”
As for Lydia Nabirye, the 23-year-old daughter of a Church of God evangelist, problems began for her after she shared her faith with a Muslim woman who subsequently became Christian. The Muslim family of the apostate woman proceeded to threaten her life. She took refuge with Lydia’s Christian family, where six other apostates from Islam had found sanctuary. Then, on April 7, while traveling to grieve with a Muslim mother whose son had died, Muslims ambushed Lydia. “They held me and started beating me up,” Lydia explained. “They slapped me, and others hit me with sticks, saying that they were out to kill me because I was changing Muslims to become Christians.”
Egypt: Several days after disappearing on April 22, Ranya Abd al-Masih (“servant of Christ”), 39, a Christian wife and mother appeared in a brief video, dressed in all black Islamic attire (niqab), saying that, “praise be to Allah,” she had willingly and secretly converted to Islam nine years earlier, and no longer wanted anyone — her husband, children, family — to bother about her anymore. Her family insists that such claims are for public consumption, likely made at gunpoint or even under the effect of drugs. The Coptic Orthodox Christian Church added an appeal to President Sisi to intervene and “return our daughter,” whose own “three young daughters are heartbroken at her absence, as is her husband and her entire family.” According to Ranya’s brother, Remon, “She was definitely kidnapped and forced to make that video, due to threats against her or her husband and children if she refused to comply.” He said the idea that she had “secretly” embraced Islam was ludicrous, and cited the fact that up until her disappearance she was regularly attending church, visiting and praying in monasteries — even fasting 55 days in the lead up to Easter. “We are sure that Ranya, our beloved sister, whom we know so well, is not the one we saw on the video; that is a woman who is being threatened and coerced.” After complaining that state security — which has been accused of complicity in similar cases — refuses to help, her brother wondered “What will we do about our Coptic mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters? We are in an era when such things should not happen.”
Raymond Ibrahim, author of the recent 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.