Xmas season marred by bloody violence from Islamists, Chrisrtians under attack, mainly in: Nigeria, Egypt, Iraq and in the Philippines.
This comes after ‘Al Qaeda in Iraq’ has threatned Christians all across the Middle East.
[Some have called it: ‘Bloody Christmas,’ ‘Black Christmas.’]
92 arrested in northern Nigeria after recent religious violence By the CNN Wire Staff
January 1, 2011 — Updated 0730 GMT (1530 HKT)
Jos, Nigeria (CNN) — Nigerian authorities on Friday arrested 92 people allegedly affiliated with a militant Islamist group that the government says is responsible for a string of recent killings in the country’s northeast.
Police blame the group, Boko Haram, for attacks Wednesday that left three police officers and one civilian dead in Maiduguru and for Christmas Eve attacks on two Christian churches in the city that left five dead.
Borno state Police Commissioner Mohammed Abubakar said those arrested were “members of a dangerous religious fundamentalist group… (that) is anti-government.”
Maiduguru is the capital of Nigeria’s Borno state.
According to IHS Jane’s, a defense and security analysis company, Boko Haram is a Sunni militant group that emerged in 2003 and is fighting for the implementation of strict Islamic law in Nigeria.
Nigeria has been rocked by recent religious violence, with the government blaming it most of the recent attacks on Islamist extremists.
Christmas Eve attacks in the volatile city of Jos claimed at least 31 lives, but the Nigerian government has said it is unclear who is responsible. On Friday, there was a mass burial for 16 of the victims.
“The perpetrators of this act are criminals under the guise of religion,” said Benjamin Kwashi, the Anglican archbishop of Jos, at a memorial service.
Three men were arrested with bombs in their possession in the vicinity of Jos on Christmas Day, authorities said
The Jos region lies on a faith-based fault line between Muslim-dominated northern Nigeria and the mainly Christian south.
At least four people were killed and another 13 wounded Friday in a bomb blast at an army barracks in Abuja, the deputy police commissioner said.
Attacks in Nigeria several of them in churches.
Christmas Eve Attacks in Nigeria Kill at Least 38
VOA News 25 December 2010
A series of Christmas Eve explosions and attacks in Nigeria, several of them at churches, have killed at least 38 people.
The worst attacks, possibly with dynamite, occurred in the central city of Jos. Police on Saturday said at least 32 people were killed and 74 wounded. There were seven explosions in two separate areas. Many of the victims were Christmas shoppers.
Jos is located in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, a region in Africa’s most populous nation where the mostly Muslim north meets the predominantly Christian south. Religious and ethnic clashes have occurred frequently in the region.
In the northern city of Maiduguri, authorities say suspected members of the Islamist sect Boko Haram threw gasoline bombs at three churches, killing six people and leaving one of the churches burned to the ground. Among the dead was a Baptist pastor, whose house also was destroyed.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan condemned the attacks. He said those responsible would be arrested to stand trial.
Members of the Boko Haram sect have been blamed for a series of attacks in recent months on police and community leaders.
The governor of Borno state, Ali Sheriff, described the assaults as a “worrisome situation” and said officials must ensure adequate safety for worshippers.
Nigeria’s 140 million people are divided roughly evenly between Christians and Muslims.
The tensions in the Middle Belt have been stoked by ethnic divisions as different groups vie for control of fertile farmlands and political power. Local rights groups say about 1,500 people have been killed in the region this year.
Bloody Christmas Eve in Nigeria | euronews, worldnews
Terror attacks kill dozens in Nigeria, Pakistan; Nigerian governor calls it a ‘black Christmas’
BY Helen Kennedy
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Nigeria – 26/12/10 05:53 CET
Bloody Christmas Eve in Nigeria .Pictures are now in from near Jos in central Nigeria where bombs tore through two villages on Christmas Eve. Around 40 people died and over 70 were injured in seven separate blasts in two locations.
Extremist bombs and fireworks accidents mar New Year around the world
– Sacramento Bee
Published: Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011 – 12:00 am
Last Modified: Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011 – 2:59 pm
The world entered 2011 in high style from Friday into Saturday with parties across the globe, but terrorism and violence – and in some cases bad weather – marred some celebrations.
In nations where Muslim-Christian friction is common, Islamic extremists bombed crowds marking the New Year, which is determined by the Christian calendar. The Islamic new year began on December 7.
The worst violence was in Nigeria, where bomb blasts in the capital Abuja left about 30 dead, local media said.
Witnesses spoke of 20 dead, some women and children, when a bomb exploded at a crowded marketplace in a military cantonment where members of the armed forces and their families live.
It was not clear who was behind the blast. Christmas Eve attacks on churches in the central Nigerian town of Jos left at least 80 people dead. Members of the Islamist sect Boko Haram have been blamed in the earlier attacks.
The Punch newspaper cited an anti-terrorism expert on Saturday saying that a connection with the al-Qaida network could not be ruled out in the Abuja attack.
Another bomb exploded late Friday outside a church where worshippers were celebrating New Year’s Eve, the newspaper Vanguard reported.
Over the past year, repeated clashes between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria – who each make up about half the population – have claimed hundreds of lives.
Politicians have warned of attempts to destabilize the country ahead of presidential elections due in April.
At least 22 people were killed and 43 injured when a suicide bomber set off a blast outside a church in the northern Egyptian city of Alexandria. Coptic Christians were at the church for a New Year’s Eve mass when the bomb exploded around 20 minutes after midnight.
Egypt’s interior ministry said the bomber was one of the dead and blamed “foreign elements.”
<font color=red>The Islamic State of Iraq, a group affiliated with al-Qaida, has recently threatened Christians throughout the Middle East.</font>
A bomb killed two policemen and wounded four other officers in Thailand’s majority-Muslim Deep South where separatists had vowed to disrupt the New Year festivities.
In other parts of the world, the main danger was from carelessly ignited fireworks or guns fired in celebration.
In rowdy celebrations in the Philippines, three people were killed by stray bullets while watching fireworks. A teenager was stabbed to death in an argument with a drunken man about firecrackers. Some 287 others were injured in other incidents, police said.
In Crispano in southern Italy, a 39-year-old man died instantly when a stray gunshot hit him as he stood on a balcony during celebrations. Reports said at least 70 people were hurt by fireworks in the Naples area alone.
Coptic church bombing in Egypt is latest assault on Mideast Christians
By Borzou Daragahi and Amro Hassan, Los Angeles Times
January 1, 2011, 3:39 p.m.
The New Year’s blast kills 21 and sparks clashes between police and Copts. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak accuses foreign elements of involvement in the terrorist attack, which drew condemnation across the Middle East.
Reporting from Beirut and Cairo — A devastating New Year’s Day terrorist bombing at a Coptic church in Egypt that killed 21 people was the latest in a spate of violent assaults against the Middle East’s vulnerable Christian communities.
The car bomb explosion also injured 79 people just after midnight Saturday as worshipers were leaving a New Year’s Mass at the Saints Church in east Alexandria, Egyptian officials said. The bombing sparked street clashes between police and angry Copts, who hurled stones, stormed a nearby mosque and threw some of its books into the street.
Security forces cordoned off the area and used tear gas to disperse the crowd. A witness told the state-run newspaper Al Ahram that a priest calmed the Copts and urged them to stay inside the church.
The attack was among the deadliest on Egyptian Christians in recent memory and the worst terrorist incident in the country since 2006, and followed similar assaults this week in Iraq.
All but eight of the injured and all of the fatalities in Alexandria were Christians, according to Egypt’s Ministry of Health. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which was being described as a suicide bombing. The explosion, which appeared designed to inflict maximum civilian casualties, bore the hallmark of Al Qaeda militants.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak accused unnamed foreign elements of being behind the attack.
“This act of terrorism shook the country’s conscience, shocked our feelings and hurt the hearts of Muslim and Coptic Egyptians,” he said in an emergency address to the nation. “The blood of their martyrs in the land of Alexandria mixed to tell us all that all Egypt is the target and that blind terrorism does not differentiate between a Copt and a Muslim.”
The attack in the ancient Mediterranean coastal city was the latest in a wave of violence against once-resilient Christian communities in the Muslim world, some of which date back to antiquity.
Christmas Eve assaults by Muslim extremists killed dozens of Christians in the Nigerian cities of Jos and Maiduguri. And Iraq’s Christians have endured a relentless campaign of attacks and intimidation by the local branch of Al Qaeda.
An Oct. 31 siege on a Baghdad church that killed at least 58 parishioners and staff members sparked a new Christian exodus from the Iraqi capital and the northern city of Mosul. About 1,000 families sought refuge in Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish enclave afterward, according to the United Nations. Further threats of violence by Islamic militants caused many Christians in Iraq to tone down Christmas celebrations, and attacks Thursday against 10 Christian targets left an elderly couple dead.
Officials across the Middle East, including the ultraconservative Muslim governments.., condemned Saturday’s attack, which was widely covered in television news broadcasts. In an annual New Year’s speech at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI urged the faithful to stave off despair over such violence, but also demanded that governments do more to protect religious minorities.
“In front of the current threatening tensions, in front of especially the discrimination tyranny and religious intolerance, that today hit in particular the Christians, once again I deliver the pressing invite to not cave in to the depression and resignation,” Benedict said, adding that officials’ “words are not enough” in confronting religious intolerance.
“There must be a concrete and constant effort from leaders of nations,” he said.
The Alexandria bombing transformed a joyous New Year celebration into a grim reminder of the country’s religious strife. A witness told Al Ahram that the massive explosion rocked the church.
“It was about 15 minutes after midnight when we heard the sound of the explosion. We came out of the church to find two cars on fire,” said Sami Saad, who was in the church when the bomb exploded. “Everyone was frightened and people were screaming after we saw scattered parts of the dead bodies mixing with blood on the ground.”
Making up about 10% of the country’s population, Copts are Egypt’s largest religious minority group and the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Religious violence between Muslims and Copts has increased in recent years, often triggered by interfaith marriages or conversions, especially in southern Egypt, where Copts live in larger communities.
Copts have also grown angry about the obstacles to building churches, when the authorization process is easy for construction of mosques.
Riots have frequently broken out. Two people died in November clashes in Cairo between Coptic demonstrators and police after local authorities refused to allow a community center to be turned into a church.
The violence lately has taken an ominous turn. In November, the militant group Al Qaeda in Iraq announced that Coptic churches in Egypt would be targeted until two priests’ wives who were allegedly locked up in Coptic monasteries after converting to Islam are freed. Al Qaeda militants in Iraq have also referred to the women in justifying attacks on once-vibrant Christian communities in Baghdad and around Mosul.
Most Middle Eastern countries outside the Arabian Peninsula have sizable Christian communities, including the Maronites in Lebanon, Armenians in Iran and the Orthodox in Syria. But their numbers have shrunk over the last century, experts say. Christians now account for less than 5% of the Middle East’s population, down from 20%.
Authorities worry that Christian communities in relatively safe countries, such as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iran, also are shrinking, though driven more by a search for economic opportunities that by fear of violence. They tend to be better educated and more Western-oriented than their Muslim compatriots and often utilize family or religious ties abroad to emigrate.
PHILIPPINES Jolo: Muslim leaders slam Christmas attack
In a statement released to the press, representatives of the Philippines’ ulama urge all Muslims to fight Muslim extremists who use Islam in their own interests. The Christian Community in Jolo (Mindanao) was attacked during Mass at the Sacred Heart Chapel. Eleven people were wounded. Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah are the main suspects.
Zamboanga (AsiaNews) – A group of Filipino ulama have condemned the attack by Muslim extremists against the Chapel of the Sacred Heart in Jolo (Sulu) on Saturday. They urge the authorities to move “heaven and earth” to bring the culprits to justice.
A bomb exploded at 7.15 am during Christmas Mass. The blast blew out the chapel’s roof and wounded 11 people.
No one has yet claim responsibility for the attack, and the authorities are still trying to identify who might be behind it.
Various Islamist groups operate in Sulu Province, including Abu Sayyaf, which is suspected to be connected to al Qaeda and Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiyah.
In his Sunday address, Benedict XVI mentioned the blood shed in the Philippines on Christmas.
In a press release also issued yesterday, members of the National Ulama Conference of the Philippines slammed the attack. The “many kidnapping incidents in different parts of Mindanao are barbaric acts of violence, cruelty, and disrespect and must be condemned,” their statement said.
“If it is true, then let it be known to all that the “brand of Islam” being espoused by the so-called ‘Jama’a Islamia’ and its international and local accomplices has no place in the purity of Islamic teachings. Theirs is to advance their personal political agenda using Islam to get support from innocent and desperate people.”
“We challenge peace-loving Muslims to stand up against those who use Islam for their self-serving interest. And we call on other faith communities to help us Muslims to face squarely these forces of evil not to triumph; as the saying goes, ‘The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing’.”
Predominantly Muslim Mindanao has been the scene for the past 40 years of open warfare between the Filipino armed forces and extremist Islamic groups like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Abu Sayyaf.
Jolo’s Christian community has been the object of many attacks. The worst occurred on 7 July 2009 when a bomb exploded inside the cathedral, killing six and wounding 40.
Christians consider their future after more attacks in Iraq Dec 28, 2010 … Articles about Assyrians, christians in Iraq with sidenotes on the origin and history of Christian Minorities in Iraq from past to present.
US, EU Urge Iraqi Government To Protect Christians
AHN | All Headline News
The United States and the European Union on Friday, the New Year’s eve condemned the latest violence against Christians and asked Baghdad to increase efforts to give better coverage to Christians.
Source: (AHN) Reporter: Tejinder Singh
Location: Washington, D.C., United States Published: January 1, 2011 05:16 am EST
The United States on Friday, the New Year’s eve condemned the latest violence against Christians and asked Baghdad to increase efforts to give better coverage to Christians.
Iraq’s interior ministry said in a statement 15 bombs were placed around homes in Christian areas of Baghdad. Eleven of the bombs exploded, according to reports.
“We call on the Government of Iraq to redouble its efforts to protect Christians and apprehend the terrorists who are behind these acts,” said Mark C. Toner, Acting State Department Spokesman, adding, “We condemn the violence against Christians carried out overnight by terrorists in Iraq.”
Iraqi reports noted that a couple that was killed had found a bag at their gate which blew up when they opened it.
“President Talabani, Prime Minister Maliki, and virtually every political bloc and major religious leader in Iraq have denounced attacks on Christians and stressed the centrality of Christians in the fabric of Iraqi society,” Toner said in a statement.
“We commend the Government of Iraq for increasing its security measures to protect Christian communities since the October 31 suicide bombing attack at … Church,” urged Toner in his statement.
Earlier, the president of the European Parliament, the legislature of 27 member state European Union, Jerzy Buzek called upon the Iraqi government to make sure Christians in Iraq enjoy the same protection and status as Shiites and Sunnis.
“The European Parliament is very concerned about these developments and is a strong defender of human rights, including freedom of religion” President Buzek said in a statement.
“We monitor the situation closely and have adopted a number of resolutions to try to draw international attention to the plight of Christian minorities,” Buzek added.
Egypt Bombing Raises Fears of Growing Sectarian Bloodshed
By Abigail Hauslohner / Cairo Saturday, Jan. 01, 2011
It had all the hallmarks of an al-Qaeda attack. Shortly after midnight, an explosion detonated by what authorities say was likely a suicide bomber ripped through a crowd of worshippers as they emerged from New Year’s mass at a church in Egypt’s northern port city of Alexandria. The blast left 21 people dead and 79 others wounded, while opening a fresh, seething wound in Egypt’s already problematic sectarian rift.
For months, al-Qaeda militants in Iraq have called repeatedly for attacks on Christians — in retaliation, they say, for the alleged kidnapping and detention by Egypt’s Coptic church of two Christian women who are believed to have converted to Islam. And on New Year’s Day, Egyptian officials painted the bombing as a brutal, foreign assault (though they have not directly accused al Qaeda; Egypt has typically been wary of making such an explicit link to attacks for fear of scaring off tourists). President Hosni Mubarak stressed in a televised speech that the terrorists had targeted both Christians and Muslims. And one of Egypt’s highest religious authorities, the office of the Grand Mufti, issued a statement declaring that “Islam and Muslims are innocent … Such an act could not come from a Muslim who knows the truth of Islam.” More likely, the Mufti concluded, was “the involvement of foreign parties that want to strike at national unity.”
(See TIME’s photos of Egypt’s outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.)
So far, however, there’s little evidence for that. And skeptical analysts say the claims are all typical rhetoric for a regime whose officials have used foreign intervention as a scapegoat for violent incidents ranging from terrorist bombings and rocket attacks to maulings by sharks.
While many analysts believe the attack was at least inspired by outsiders, the government’s real fear, they say, is that it was homegrown in its design. For the authorities, who waged a crushing campaign against violent Islamist extremism in the 1990s, and who last week had Egyptian churches on high alert, it would be a huge admission of failure. But more troubling still, it would shine a spotlight on a troubling reality that the state has been at pains to sweep under the rug: Egypt’s worsening sectarian tensions. “The official rhetoric is always that problems don’t exist,” says Hisham Kassem, an independent newspaper publisher and social critic. “There are issues of discrimination against Copts, and they’re refusing to deal with them.”
(See TIME’s most unforgettable images of 2010.)
Christians make up about 10% of Egypt’s 80 million people. But observers from both communities say sectarianism has been on the rise for years as a result of both deepening religiosity and competition for resources amid worsening economic conditions. Copts have long complained of government discrimination and neglect, while Muslims have accused the Coptic community, which is subject to slightly different rules and regulations, of preferential treatment and living outside the law.
Christians are required to seek state approval to build churches, and intermarriage between Coptic men and Muslim women is illegal. In November, violent clashes broke out in Cairo over plans to build a church. And almost exactly one year ago, a gunman massacred seven people in a town in southern Egypt, following a Christmas mass.
(See TIME’s Top 10 of Everything of 2010.)
But conversion is one topic that has been particularly contentious, and increasingly public as well. Since last summer, Alexandria — known half a century ago for being Egypt’s breezy, cosmopolitan gateway to the Mediterranean — has become the epicenter of extremist outrage over the alleged captive converts. While al-Qaeda militants in Iraq have called repeatedly for attacks on Christians until they are released, adherents to the hard-line Salafi sect of Islam have staged regular protests, in which they compare the Egyptian pope to the devil, and liken their conflict to the Crusades.
It’s no wonder then that not everyone is buying the official line on the source of the attacks. “I remain more convinced that it is an Islamic Jihadist group rooted in Egypt and Alexandria, and it stands behind whatever has happened,” says Yousef Sidham, the editor of Al-Watany, a Coptic Christian Christian newspaper. “We know that whenever al-Qaeda succeeds in an attack, they always declare responsibility for it,” he adds. In this case, that hasn’t happened yet.
(Comment on this story.)
Meanwhile, the national unity that state authorities have called for today may instead wind up another casualty of the midnight bombing. Shortly after the explosion, clashes erupted between Christian and Muslim protesters who had gathered at the scene, and the Associated Press reported that a mob of Christians broke into a nearby mosque, throwing books out into the street. On Saturday clashes continued between Christian protesters and police wiedling tear gas.
It’s a cycle that analysts say is likely to repeat in the days ahead. “It’s a very hot situation, and it is liable to be continuous,” says Milad Hanna, a Coptic politician and former member of parliament.
Bomb hits Egypt church at New Year’s Mass, 21 dead – Valley News … Dec 31, 2010 … Blood splattered the facade of the church, as well as a mosque directly across the street. … It was the deadliest violence involving Christians in Egypt since … three days of Muslim-Christian riots that left at least four dead. … massacre of nearly 60 tourists at a Pharaonic temple in Luxor. …
Bombing opens vein of Christian anger in Egypt
By PAUL SCHEMM, Associated Press Paul Schemm, Associated Press – Mon Jan 3, 4:54 pm ET
CAIRO – The New Year’s Day suicide bombing of a church that killed 21 people has opened up a vein of fury among Egypt’s Christians, built up over years of what they call government failure to address persistent discrimination and violence against their community.
Christian anger, says rights activist Hossam Bahgat, stems in large part because they feel attacks against them can be carried out with impunity, something borne out by evidence of past incidents, especially in Egypt’s impoverished hinterlands.
In a two-year study conducted by his organization, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, he documented 52 anti-Christian incidents between 2008 and 2010 and in none of them were the perpetrators punished. Instead security forces arbitrarily arrested a few people.
“Security then forces both sides to accept reconciliation at the expense of justice,” he said, which gives the perpetrators a sense of impunity. “It’s an invitation for these events to recur and the victims are left feeling victimized twice, first by those who did it and second by the government.”
Egypt’s government maintains Muslims and Christians are treated equally in the country and after these kinds of sectarian incidents loudly affirms its commitment to national unity.
But Christians have long complained that they are discriminated against in getting jobs in the government, universities — even the private sector. They also point to rising Muslim conservativism that they say affects government officials’ dealings with Christians.
Youssef Sidhom, a prominent Coptic intellectual and editor of the weekly Watani newspaper, said that in Egyptian society there has been growing antipathy to coexisting with Christians, undermining such official pronouncements.
“The infiltration of political Islam into our education, our schools, into the hearts and minds of school teachers and into our school books and is extremely dangerous because it produces innocent children who are infected by the version of Islam that does not accept the other and preaches non-acceptance of Christians,” he told The Associated Press.
In an editorial in the English-language online version of the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper, editor Hani Shukrallah slammed the government for trying to appease Islamist sentiment and warned against rising anti-Christian sentiment among Muslims.
“I accuse the millions of supposedly moderate Muslims among us — those who’ve been growing more and more prejudiced, inclusive and narrow minded with every passing year,” he wrote Saturday.
“I have heard you speak, in your offices, in your clubs, at your dinner parties: ‘The Copts must be taught a lesson…
Muslims Chant “AllahuAkbar” After Car Bomb Kills 21 Christians
A video of the bombing of the Christian church in Egypt, showing the Muslims chanting Allah Akbar and walking on the dead bodies.
An hour before the bombing, the Egyptian police guards all left. And didn’t return until the Christians, infuriated at the Allah Akbar chants started throwing rocks at the Mosque on the other side of the street. The only ones arrested were the Christians who just saw their loved ones slaughtered.