"He was a 15-year-old adolescent. He was so deeply asleep in his bed that he didn't hear any of the noise around him. They thrust the blade of the axe so deeply into his skull, to the point we had to use a hammer to get it out of his head." Many Christians have been displaced by these ongoing attacks and live in "extreme misery," added another local: "This is beyond persecution. It is a dramatic situation, plunging thousands of families into a deplorable humanitarian crisis." — Rebecca, a witness, Barnabas Fund, November 15, 2019, Cameroon.
A group of Muslims beat, robbed, and threatened to kill a Christian evangelist if he did not convert to Islam.... [T]he Muslims indicated that they had physical pains and injuries. Fløttum offered to pray for them, they accepted, and he complied. They said they felt better and urged him to go with them and pray for another of their friends who was also suffering from a foot injury.... "They were very nice and I couldn't believe they would deceive me," he later said. They took him to a backyard, pushed him down a cellar staircase, and began to beat and kick him in the face...."While they kept me there, they threatened me and said they would kill me if I did not convert to Islam....I was scared and actually thought they were going to kill me because they said they had a knife and didn't want witnesses." — Idag.no, November 28, 2019, Norway.
"...although the Egyptian government has made some modest progress toward legalizing informal churches around the country and improving public discourse about Coptic rights, it has taken few steps toward systematically improving religious freedom conditions for vulnerable Christian populations, particularly in rural areas." — United States Commission on Interreligious Freedom (USCIRF), Annual Report 2019, Egypt.
The Slaughter of Christians
Syria: On November 11, Islamic gunmen opened fire on a vehicle known to be carrying Christian leaders. Two Armenian priests, Father Abrahim Petoyan and Father Hovsep Petoyan, a father and son, were killed and a deacon was seriously wounded. ISIS claimed responsibility. The Armenians had been going to inspect repairs on an Armenian Catholic church that had earlier been damaged in Deir ez-Zor. "We continue to feel the presence of ISIS," responded the Armenian Catholic Archbishop Boutros Marayati of Aleppo, adding that Deir ez-Zor "is a very important town for us, because it is there that many of our martyrs were killed as they fled the Turkish genocide of 1915. Today there are no Armenian Catholics left there. Undoubtedly, the Turks don't want us to return, because our presence would be a reminder of the Armenian genocide."
Turkey: On November 19, in the streets of the city of Diyarbakir, Korean evangelist Jinwook Kim, 41, was stabbed and later died from his injuries. A 16-year-old Muslim was later arrested. According to the report,
Kim had arrived in Diyarbakir with his family earlier this year and was pastoring a small community of Christians. The assailant stabbed Kim three times: twice in the heart, once in the back. Officials, however, claim that the incident occurred in an effort to steal Kim's phone. Local believers urge the authorities to investigate the incident as an assassination, rather than an attempt at extortion. Kim was married and had one child, although his second is expected to be born in the coming days.... He had lived in Turkey for five years.
"This wasn't just a robbery; they came to kill him," insists another local Christian, who received a death threat the day after this incident:
"We always get threats. A brother prophesied a few days ago that they (the government) are going to kick out these foreigners, and probably kill a few Turkish brothers. They are going to cause chaos. They know that I am trying to spread the Gospel, so they may target me too. This may be a sign."
Ethiopia: "Two Ethiopian pastors have been beheaded in Sebeta, near the capital Addis Ababa, in an outburst of violence against Christians." The attack erupted after a leading Muslim incited his supporters against the government over some supposed infraction against him. The report added that "the situation on the ground has become quite challenging for Christians and many churches have been burnt this year. There is also an unverified report that a group of Christians has been forced out of the majority-Muslim town of Ginir, located 303 miles south-east of the capital."
Nigeria: Muslim Fulani herdsmen continued their raids of murder on Christian communities. Two incidents were especially notable. First, in the early hours of November 14, machete-wielding Muslim raiders hacked to death four Christians as they slept in their bedrooms in Agban village, near Kagoro. All of the victims were farmers and members of the local church. Ten days later, on November 24, Muslim herdsmen attacked Agom, a Christian village, around 4:30 a.m. They hacked an 87-year-old Christian to death with machetes and shot another Christian in the head; he died instantly. Both men, regular churchgoers, had been sleeping in their homes.
Cameroon: On November 6 in Moskota, Islamic militants affiliated with Boko Haram attacked a church where they killed David Mokoni, a retired pastor, as well as a hearing-impaired Christian boy. Another pastor was shot in the leg. Afterwards, the militants looted the church, and even took the pastors' ceremonial robes. "Boko Haram has been stepping up its attacks on Christian villages in Far North Cameroon in an attempt to establish an Islamic caliphate from north-eastern Nigeria all the way to northern Cameroon," the report said. The most recent attack follows a "brutal spate of attacks since late October, by gangs of up to 200 militants, [which] has left eight dead": "The first of the attacks came on 30 October with the looting of six mainly-Christian villages in Mayo Sava district.... On 31 October, five people were hacked to death when militants armed with axes, knives and wooden clubs stormed the village of Kotserehé. A sixth wounded man later died from his injuries." Rebecca, a witness, described the slaughter of a boy in Kotserehé: "He was a 15-year-old adolescent. He was so deeply asleep in his bed that he didn't hear any of the noise around him. They thrust the blade of the axe so deeply into his skull, to the point we had to use a hammer to get it out of his head." Many Christians have been displaced by these ongoing attacks and live in "extreme misery," added another local: "This is beyond persecution. It is a dramatic situation, plunging thousands of families into a deplorable humanitarian crisis."
Pakistan: Muslim bakers murdered a teenage Christian coworker and police are covering it up, alleged Sarwar Masih, the father of Akash Masih, the slain 18-year-old: "My son was an expert at baking and making shawarma and burgers" and his "expertise was liked by the customers." As a result, "he faced discrimination and religious jealousy at his workplace. He often complained about the unfavorable situation at the bakery, but he continued working to help his family." One day the bakery called the father and said his son was sick and sent to a hospital. Sarwar rushed there only to learn that his son had already died. When he contacted police, the bakery threatened him and police were unresponsive. They claimed that his son had "committed suicide," even though signs of torture were visible on his neck and back. "These are delaying tactics to defuse the evidences against the culprits," Sarwar reported: "Christians face hatred and discrimination even after their death."
Separately, on November 16, an armed Muslim mob attacked and drove out the Christian families of a small village in Lahore. One Christian teenage girl, Sonia Sarwar, was killed and six others seriously injured in the riot. "The attack was aimed at displacing around ten Christian families from this area," explained Nazir Masih, whose legs were wounded in the attack: "Arshad Kambho, an influential Muslim, wants to grab the property of the Christians." Since 2015, Kambho had been trying to steal the Christians' land. He took them twice to courts, and twice the courts had ruled in favor of the Christians. "Since then, Kambho has been creating disputes with the Christians to damage them and drag them into an allegation," another local said.
Attacks on Christian Churches
Syria: On November 11 — the same day that the two Armenian priests were killed in a hail of bullets (see above) — three car bombings took place in the city of Qamishli, which holds a significant Christian population. One of the bombs detonated near a Chaldean church and killed at least six civilians, as well as damaging the church building; another detonated near an Assyrian Christian-owned market, and a third detonated near a Catholic school. All of the attacks were claimed by ISIS.
Egypt: On Friday, November 1, a fire broke out in a Coptic church in Shubra. According to the report, "The fire had started at around 8:30 am close to the church theatre hall, in a building adjacent to the church itself. Anba Makary, Bishop of South Shubra, was then officiating Mass on the ground floor for persons with disabilities. They were all safely evacuated." In the preceding two weeks, in October, two other churches had been torched. Police concluded that all three fires three were due to electrical malfunctions. Christians argued otherwise, that the cause was arson.
In a separate incident, the civil council of the village of Neda ordered the church of St. George to remove its bell tower, in keeping with Islamic law. The church, fearing that this was just the first warning of a downward spiral toward closure, made a direct appeal to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. According to the November 17 report,
"[T]he actual construction of the church has been a slow process. It was originally established in 1911, but it didn't receive building permits until 2006. Because the village Christians are poor, construction has been slow. They are afraid that the village extremists will stop them from continuing construction without the intervention of the President. Churches are a contentious subject in Egypt, which is an officially Islamic country. The construction of churches is tightly regulated by the state..."
Pakistan: A Muslim mob demolished a wall and the front door of a Catholic church in the Punjab on the pretext that it was not formally registered. However, according to church member Naseer Masih, "Muslims do not want the church in the village because they have bad feelings towards Christians." The report states:
"On 4 November 50 policemen arrived in front of the [church] gate and asked Catholics if they had ever had problems praying in church. Christians have responded that they had never had difficulties. Meanwhile, a crowd of 60 people gathered to bring a tractor and hammers. With the tractor they knocked down the door, then the Muslims completed the destruction with hammers."
The police just stood by and watched. "[W]e had no warning from the police before the accident," said Naseer. "The Muslims carried out the destruction and the policemen did nothing against them. This means that they are on their side.... We have prepared all the documents," he added, referring to the legality of the modest, now ruined church that had been built in 2007.
Turkey: According to a November 21 report, "Turkey's Council of State, the country's highest administrative court, has recently approved changing the historic Chora Greek Orthodox Church located in Istanbul, currently a museum, into a mosque":
"Commentators say that sets the legal precedent for transforming Hagia Sophia, the very symbol of Byzantine and Orthodox Christianity, which is also currently an official museum, back into a mosque.... The interior of the [Chora] church, which was originally built as part of a monastery complex outside the walls of Constantinople, is covered with some of the oldest and finest surviving Byzantine mosaics and frescoes."
Chora Church's uniquely old and surprisingly intact artwork was first made in 1315—more than a century before the Turkish invasion and conquest of Constantinople in 1453. The artwork images of Joseph, Mary, and Baby Jesus (view here). All these historic frescoes are set to be destroyed when the church is transformation into a mosque.
France: On Sunday, November 3, a statue of St. Bernadette in the chapel of the St. Florent hermitage in Oberhaslach was found beheaded. Because in France, approximately two churches are reportedly violated every day, this bit of vandalism attracted little attention. According to PI-News, 1,063 attacks on Christian churches or symbols (crucifixes, icons, statues) were registered in France in just 2018. A separate January 2017 study revealed that "Islamist extremist attacks on Christians" in France — which holds one of Europe's largest Muslim populations — rose by 38 percent, going from 273 attacks in 2015 to 376 in 2016; the majority occurred during Christmas season and "many of the attacks took place in churches and other places of worship." Unsurprisingly, the parish where the beheaded statue was found suffered an arson attack the year before.
General Hate for and Abuse of Christians
Norway: A group of Muslims beat, robbed, and threatened to kill a Christian evangelist if he did not convert to Islam. According to the report, Roar Fløttum was "preaching the gospel and praying for the sick" on November 27, following a prayer meeting in the church he attends in Trondheim, when he encountered a group of Muslim men. During their conversation, the Muslims indicated that they had physical pains and injuries. Fløttum offered to pray for them, they accepted, and he complied. They said they felt better and urged him to go with them and pray for another of their friends who was also suffering from a foot injury. Fløttum went. "They were very nice and I couldn't believe they would deceive me," he later said. They took him to a backyard, pushed him down a cellar staircase, and began to beat and kick him in the face. They kept him hostage there for about an hour, robbed him of his credit cards and about a thousand kroner (equivalent to about $108 USD). "While they kept me there, they threatened me and said they would kill me if I did not convert to Islam," recalled the Norwegian.
"They wanted me to say some words in Arabic [likely the shahada, 'There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah,' which, when recited before Muslim witnesses, makes the reciter a Muslim]. I was scared and actually thought they were going to kill me because they said they had a knife and didn't want witnesses."
Egypt: A knife-wielding Muslim man stabbed a Christian family—consisting of a mother and her two sons—and left one of the boys in critical condition. The incident occurred on the evening of Sunday, November 17, in Minya. When the Muslim man saw the family sitting outside their home, as is customary in Egypt, he began yelling at them to go back inside. When the older son refused, the man, identified variously as "Ali," or "Muhammad," went to his home nearby and returned with a knife. He lunged at the family, stabbed the mother in the head, sliced the younger brother's face, and stabbed the older brother several times in the gut (images here). A separate report adds that, "Last year, Mohammed attacked another Christian man with a cleaver.... He is known to hate Christians." "We can't get back to the village," one of the sons reported.
"Right now, we try to avoid fights and disputes with them. The extremists' family live in a house which is not far away from us. We will not let them induce us to fight them or anything like that. If we did something like that, we will lose our rights to punish the extremist. We want law enforcement."
Uganda: On November 10, Muslim relatives of a Christian father of four young children poisoned and almost killed him for leaving Islam. Ronald Rajab Nayekuliza, 48, had converted earlier and proceeded to build a church and raise pigs as livestock. His brothers, already angered by his conversion, responded by building a mosque near the church, while local Muslims regularly hurled stones at the church during Sunday worship. Next, his older brother, Anus Wako, began sending threatening messages:
"You rearing pigs is against the faith of our father. We are from a Muslim family, and our father did not allow the keeping of pigs. While our father was still alive, you were a Muslim; that is why he gave you land to live in, not for the construction of the church. Our family has become a laughingstock to our Muslim neighbors."
Then, on the morning of November 8, Ronald found six of his piglets slaughtered: "I knew it must be my brothers; that really confirmed my earlier fears. My brothers had threatened me with witchcraft as well as receiving curses from Allah. This has made me live in great fear of my life and that of my family." Two days later he attended a memorial for his father, where his brothers and other local Muslims were gathered. Before leaving, Ronald told his pregnant wife that "he was feeling a kind of nausea," she said. "Immediately he started to vomit, then followed by diarrhea, with fever and complaining of abdominal pain." They rushed him to a hospital, where he lost consciousness. After doctors confirmed that he had been poisoned with a pesticide, police were sent to the brothers' home: "When the four brothers saw the police vehicle, two of them fled," a Christian local said. "The police arrested two brothers, Anus Wako and Kalipan Waswa, who were released on bond after four days." Ronald spent more than a week recovering in the hospital. "My husband is better but still very weak, with blurry vision and feeling numbness in his body," his wife reported.
Pakistan: On November 10, Muslim arsonists reportedly torched a Christian home in Al-Noor town. Witnesses saw two motorcyclists who had attended a nearby Islamic rally hurl a packet near where the house first caught fire. "The fire was extremely hot and it melted the stuff inside," Manzoor Masih, the father of the family said:
"It looks like they used some chemical which turned all the stuff into ashes within no time. The fire damaged beds, mattresses, furniture, trunks, cloths, crookery, fans, computers, the UPS, and the entire electric system.... For the last six months, different groups keep pressuring my family to leave this neighborhood and go to a Christian settlement. However, we never gave into their threats.... I never thought we would face this much hatred for not selling our house. It's really heartbreaking and disappointing for a Christian living in this country..."
Turkey: A recreational facility in the town of Dargeçit referred to as the "Nation's Garden" is, as revealed in November, being built atop the graves of Christian and Armenian Christians—both of which groups were victims of the 1915 genocide by Ottoman Turkey. "Is it now the turn of our deceased?" responded Evgil Türker, chairperson of the Federation of the Syriac Associations:
"This mustn't happen; we strongly condemn it... Of course, this event reminded us of the past. There had been similar cases in the past.... [T]his is looting. This is proof that the deceased of others [meaning non-Muslims] are not respected.... [T]his mentality has to be stopped."
Egypt: A Christian activist and social media blogger, Ramy Kamel, who exposes the plight of his coreligionists, was arrested and falsely charged with "terrorism," presumably to silence him. In response, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a statement in which it "strongly condemns" Egypt's treatment of him:
"Mr. Kamel is an activist and prominent member of the Maspero Youth Union, advocating for full civil rights for Egypt's Coptic Christian community and documenting abuses against its members. On November 23, National Security Agency officers stormed his home; confiscated his mobile phone, laptop, and other belongings related to his advocacy work; and took him into custody. One day later, the Supreme State Security Prosecution announced a series of spurious charges against Mr. Kamel, including membership in a terrorist organization, spreading false information, and disturbing the public order.
USCIRF Vice Chair Nadine Maenza elaborated:
"USCIRF calls on the Egyptian government to immediately release Mr. Kamel from detention and dismiss the preposterous charges against him. His arrest casts doubt on the sincerity of Egypt's promises of working toward greater religious freedom; Egypt cannot pledge improved rights and freedoms for Copts and other non-Muslim communities, while at the same time bringing false charges against its own citizens who are advocating for those same reforms."
The USCIRF statement concludes:
"Egypt's Coptic Christians represent the single largest non-Muslim community in the Middle East, likely comprising 10-15 percent of the country's population of over 100 million. Despite their integral role in Egyptian society and history, they have long faced discrimination and periodic violence for their faith. In its 2019 Annual Report, USCIRF found that although the Egyptian government has made some modest progress toward legalizing informal churches around the country and improving public discourse about Coptic rights, it has taken few steps toward systematically improving religious freedom conditions for vulnerable Christian populations, particularly in rural areas."
Pakistan: The only Christian journalist registered with the Lahore Press Club finally resigned after years of harassment and discrimination from her Muslim coworkers. Gonila Gill, 38, had covered the persecution of minorities since 2002. In 2014, while remaining Christian, she married a Muslim journalist. Soon after, the harassment began in earnest. Her coworkers "told me that I would never get pregnant until I converted," and her husband was accused of being an "infidel." She finally resigned, "owing to the mental torture her colleagues put her through from not converting to Islam" notes a November 19 report. "Speaking to the media, Gill said people are vile, but no matter what she will not lose faith in her religion."
Raymond Ibrahim, author of Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War between Islam and the West, is Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center, Judith Friedman Rosen Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and distinguished senior fellow at the Gatestone Institute.