In recent weeks, Christians in Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia and the Palestinian self-rule areas have come under attack from Muslims, in incidents often believed to be linked to the events in Afghanistan, the Barnabas Fund reports. "Christian minorities across the Islamic world are becoming the targets for revenge attacks from Islamic extremists hostile towards America's war on terrorism, which they see as a campaign against Islam," the British-based organization said in a briefing statement.
"Many extremists assume Christians will be natural supporters and allies of the West, and therefore consider them legitimate targets for brutal intimidation and violent revenge attacks."
The charity, which campaigns for persecuted Christians abroad, follows the situation through on-the-ground contacts in sensitive areas.
The situation in Pakistan is particularly tense for the country's small Christian minority. Five Christian families in Rawalpindi have been dragged from their homes and beaten by mobs rioting against the U.S. A Lahore church was set on fire and the minister beaten by the arsonists. These reported incidents come against a background of an already difficult situation for Christians in Pakistan. The Bartlesville, OK. -Based group Voice of the Martyrs says at least Eight Pakistani Christian men are currently imprisoned for allegedly violating the country's blasphemy law, which allows for a maximum penalty of life imprisonment or death.
"Various Pakistani leaders have attempted to repeal the blasphemy law, but radical Muslims - many of them supporters of Afghanistan's Taliban - have stood in the way by resorting to violence, threats, bribery and extortion," according to the organization's news director, Gary Lane. Writing on a western Christian website shortly before the attacks on Afghanistan began, one Pakistan pastor said: "I am afraid of what will happen to Christians here in Pakistan if the United States strikes Afghanistan. I am not against this retaliation; evil should be punished. But Christians are already under much pressure in this country. I have always been surprised
that world has never realized that there is a huge Christian community living in Pakistan, which bears all kinds of pressure in the response to the actions of Christian countries." In another series of arson attacks, which may or may not be linked to the conflict in Afghanistan, two churches and a Christian community center in Malaysia were attacked in recent weeks. The government of Malaysia - regarded as a moderate Muslim country - has condemned the September attacks in New York and Washington, but opposes the U.S. strikes against the Taliban and bin Laden-linked terrorist bases in Afghanistan.
Police recently arrested six alleged Islamic militants, accused of belonging to an Afghanistan-trained group suspected of planning to topple the government. In the most severe recent case, a substantial number of Nigerians - the Barnabas Fund says more than 100; reports from the area quoted police as saying 32 - were killed in Muslim-Christian rioting in the city of Kano in northern Nigeria between October 12-14. The trouble began, according to Barnabas Fund, when anti-U.S. Muslim protestors turned on members of Kano's Christian minority during demonstrations following Friday mosque prayers, setting fire to cars and churches. Thousands of Christians fled to military and police compounds seeking protection from the angry mobs. Homes, businesses, churches and mosques were destroyed in the rioting.
"The widespread fears of Christian minorities in Muslim-majority areas of the world that they would be targeted in reprisal for American attacks on Afghanistan were horribly justified on 12 October," Barnabas Fund said. Although religious tensions have flared in Nigeria since 1999, as
predominantly Muslim northern states began to impose Islamic shari'a law, world events since Sept. 11 have exacerbated matters, it said." Now with many Muslims opposing American raids on Afghanistan, and extremists identifying local Christians with the West, the situation is more fragile, and Christian minorities more vulnerable, than ever." Independent reports from the area say Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., has become something of an icon in parts of northern Nigeria, with his image plastered on public busses and
taxis. Christians have come under attacks elsewhere, too. In the Kenyan town of Isiolo, two churches were burnt to the ground late last month. The slogans "Allah is great" and "We condemn America" were engraved into the charred remains of the buildings, reported Barnabas Fund. In the PA autonomous areas, a Christian convert from Islam was reportedly accused of apostasy and stabbed to death by a bin Laden supporter on October 8.
Religious violence continues in parts of Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country. Earlier this week at least eight people died in clashes between armed Christian and Muslim gangs, Indonesian police reported. The incident occurred in Central Sulawesi province, which neighbors Maluku, scene of a bloody religious conflict, which has cost some 9,000 lives over the past three years. About 200 self-styled jihad warriors recently arrived in Central Sulawesi from Maluku, according to news reports from Jakarta. The militants belong to a group called Laskar Jihad, which has declared a holy war against Christians in the only part of the country with a sizeable
Thousands of Indonesian Christians have been killed or forcibly converted to Islam, according to Barnabas Fund international director Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo, who believes the situation for Christians in the region will only get worse as the U.S.-led campaign continues." The situation is extremely serious and demands urgent attention," said Sookhdeo, an author and Christian leader who also heads the independent Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, based in the UK. "Never in living memory has the situation for Christian minorities in the Islamic world been so precarious," he said.