Published: 00:00 GMT Daylight Time - Friday 20 October 2006
Growing violence against Christians in Iraq
Thousands of frightened Iraqi Christians are fleeing Iraq, after an escalation in anti-Christian violence. Several horrific attacks on Christians in the last three weeks have increased the fear amongst the Christian community. This appears to be a response to a call by militants for increased violence during the Islamic fasting month, Ramadan (which this year is 24th September - 23rd October).
On Wednesday October 4th an explosion was detonated in the mainly Christian district of Camp Sara, Baghdad. As people gathered round to help the wounded a second, larger explosion occurred. Nine Christians were killed in the attack, one of the largest deathtolls for a single attack. Observers say that the timing of the two consecutive bombs was similar to that of the attack on a church in Baghdad on 24th September.
On Tuesday 10th October Paulos Iskander, an Iraqi church minister, was abducted in Mosul. Iskander's eldest son received a phone call from the kidnappers demanding a ransom of $250,000; the family, unable to raise this money, were able to negotiate for a ransom of $40,000, but the kidnappers also demanded that Iskander's church publicly repudiate the remarks about Islam quoted by Pope Benedict XVI last month. When Iskander's family asked for proof that he was still alive the kidnappers held up the phone so that the sounds of crying and screaming could be heard. The family began to raise the ransom by asking churches and Christians in the area to help, and arranging several loans. Iskander's church as well as several other churches placed 30 large posters around the city to distance themselves from the Pope's words. However, before the ransom could be paid Iskander's decapitated body was discovered on 12th October, dumped in an outlying suburb of Mosul. His body showed signs of torture, with cigarette burns, bullet holes and wounds from beatings. His hands and legs had been severed, and arranged around his head which was placed on his chest. Iskander's family later received a phone call from the kidnappers, who taunted them that Iskander "had a lot of blood in him".
In Baquba, 65km north-east of Baghdad, a Christian doctor was abducted and killed on his way to work in Baquba hospital. There has also been an unconfirmed report that a 14-year-old Christian boy was crucified in Basra.
Amidst the surge in hostility towards Christians in recent weeks, Christian girls have increasingly become the target in a spate of kidnappings and rapes. The girls are taken from their families at gunpoint, from their homes or snatched off streets into waiting cars. They are frequently raped and abused while in captivity, only released if their families are able to find the large ransoms demanded. The shame of their ordeal, which is felt far more in such a culture than in the West, can make the victims suicidal. In one case a girl killed herself after being abducted and gang raped by nine men. When the abductors allowed her to call her family she asked them not to pay the ransom. The family did pay and she was returned to them, but she was found dead the following morning; she had taken an overdose of sleeping pills. In another case five Christian girls were kidnapped in front of policemen as they tried to obtain passports from a travel and citizenship department in Baghdad. The police did nothing to try to stop the kidnappers. Indeed police forces in Iraq generally seem either unable or unwilling to do anything to protect Christians, and it is reported that some are even participating in these brutal crimes against Christian women and children.
As Christians leave their homes out of fear of the violence around them, some have been specifically threatened to force them to leave. Thirty families in Mosul received messages on their mobile phones on 30th September telling them to leave within 72 hours or they would be killed. The continued exodus of Christians from Iraq and persecution of those who remain leads some to predict that there may soon be an end to the ancient Christian presence in this country.
1. Please pray for shocked and grieving Christians coming to terms with the horrific deaths of their loved ones. Pray that they will have peace in their hearts, and feel themselves comforted and protected, held in God's everlasting arms.
2. Pray for peace in Iraq, and in particular that the violence against Christians will come to an end. Pray that police and security forces in Iraq will protect all citizens irrespective of their faith.