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Amanda Casanova


Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.

Three people were killed at a church Thursday in Paris after someone attacked church members with a knife.

After the attack at Notre Dame Basilica, the prime minister raised its security alert status to the highest level, AP News reports.

The church killings were the third attack in two months in France, following the start of a trial of 14 people linked to the January 2015 killings at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket. The gunmen claimed to be part of the Islamic State group and al-Qaida. The newspaper had published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

Police were able to wound the assailant in Thursday’s church killings. He is in the hospital, but police have not released his name.

“He cried ‘Allah Akbar!’ over and over, even after he was injured,” said Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi. “The meaning of his gesture left no doubt.”

The attack also came after Islamic State extremists had released a video on Wednesday calling for attacks against France.

Also Thursday, in Avignon, police shot an armed man to death after he refused to follow officer's warnings to drop his gun. At the French consulate in Jiddah, a man stabbed and wounded a guard.

Less than two weeks ago, an attacker beheaded a French middle school teacher who showed the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad for a class on free speech.

In September, a man attacked bystanders with a butcher knife outside Charlie Hebdo’s former office.

The French Council of the Muslim Faith issued a statement and asked French Muslims to show “mourning and solidarity with the victims and loved ones” and refrain from events this week celebrating the birth of Muhammad.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister also condemned the church attack.

“We stand in solidarity with the people of France against terror and violence,” the statement said.

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Arnold Jerocki/Stringer


Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.

JOS, Nigeria, October 28, 2020 (Morning Star News) – Fulani herdsmen wounded two Christians in north-central Nigeria on Sunday (Oct. 25), a little more than a week after herdsmen in the country’s northeast killed another church member while a Christian woman and pastor were kidnapped, sources said.

Herdsmen shot and wounded the two Christians at Ratsat-Rat Junction in Plateau state’s Vatt village, Barkin Ladi County, at about 6:30 p.m. on Sunday (Oct. 25), said Dalyop Solomon Mwantiri, director of the Emancipation Centre for Crisis Victims in Nigeria (ECCVN), an area resident who spoke with one of the victims, Victor Markus.

“The Fulani herdsmen shot them as they rode on their motorcycle,” Mwantiri said. “Both of them escaped with bullet wounds. Victor Markus was shot on his hand and legs, while Gyang Gwom was also shot on his legs.”

Markus, 20, and Gwom, 30, were treated at Jos University Teaching Hospital, he said.

In northeast Nigeria’s Adamawa state, a group of armed Fulani herdsmen shot David Titus to death on Oct. 17 as was returning to Nega village from nearby Bang village, according to Aslem Nuhu Kyauta, a community leader and a resident of Numan town.

“He was shot and killed on the spot,” Kyauta told Morning Star News by text message. “This happened just a day after another Christian by the name of Kennedy Bitrus, from the same Bang village, was attacked and wounded by these Fulani herdsmen. He was ambushed and cut with machetes by the Fulani herdsmen while he was returning to Bang village.”

Bitrus received treatment at a hospital in Numan town, he said. He is a member of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria, as was Titus.

Police in Adamawa state confirmed the attacks on the two Christians and said investigations were underway.

Kidnappings

In Borno state, also in the northeast, suspected members of the Boko Haram Islamic extremist insurgency on Oct. 19 kidnapped a young woman engaged to be married along with four other Christian women as they traveled to Maiduguri on the Damaturu-Maiduguri highway, a relative said.

“Please let’s pray for Fayina Ali, who was kidnapped by Boko Haram on her way to Maiduguri; she’s a soon to be bride,” the relative told Morning Star News by text message. “Let’s pray for her release.”

Ali is a graduate of Nuhu Bamali Polytechnic, Zaria, in Kaduna state, according to her Facebook profile.

“I pray for your release dear. The God we serve will deliver you,” friend Janet Mamza wrote on her timeline. Another friend, Peter Boyi, wrote, “Please Lord, protect your child! Wherever you are be strong girl, the Lord will never forsake you.”

Terrorists from Boko Haram, which originated in Maiduguri, routinely mount roadblocks and kidnap Christian commuters after stopping vehicles along highways that are now seen as corridors of death for Christians in northeast Nigeria.

On the same day (Oct. 19), a Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) pastor disappeared as he traveled to the city of Gombe, in the state of the same name also in northeast Nigeria, according to church members. Islamist terrorists are suspected of kidnapping the Rev. Polycarp Zongo, pastor of a COCIN congregation in Jos, Plateau state.

“This is to inform the COCIN family that one of our pastors, the Rev. Zongo, has been missing since he embarked on a trip last Monday, 19th of October, to Gombe,” church member Nanna Nanmwa told Morning Star News by text message, echoing other messages by COCIN members. “This announcement is a call for prayers for his safe return.”

Pastor Zongo had headed for the city of Gombe to attend a church conference scheduled for Oct. 20.

New Breed of Herdsmen

Numbering in the millions across Nigeria and the Sahel, predominantly Muslim Fulani comprise hundreds of clans of many different lineages who do not hold extremist views, but some Fulani do adhere to radical Islamist ideology, the United Kingdom’s All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom or Belief (APPG) noted in a recent report.

“They adopt a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and ISWAP [Islamic State West Africa Province] and demonstrate a clear intent to target Christians and potent symbols of Christian identity,” the APPG report states.

Fulani herdsmen have increasingly adopted ideology and methods similar to Islamic extremist groups like Boko Haram, and some come from outside Nigeria, This Day’s Akin Osuntokun wrote in an Aug. 14 column for the Nigerian news outlet.

“Today, a new breed of herdsman has emerged: an aggressive and murderous terrorist bearing sophisticated firearms such as AK-47s and even rocket launchers,” Osuntokun wrote. “And they become the mobile avant-garde army of political Islam in Nigeria. Given the country’s porous borders, many of them are recent immigrants from neighboring countries. Herdsmen from Niger, Chad and Mali can walk across the border and immediately lay claim to all the sacrosanct rights appertaining to bona fide Nigerian nationals.”

Christian leaders in Nigeria have said they believe herdsmen attacks on Christian communities in Nigeria’s Middle Belt are inspired by their desire to forcefully take over Christians’ lands and impose Islam as desertification has made it difficult for them to sustain their herds.

The APPG report noted that tribal loyalties cannot be overlooked.

“In 2015, Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani, was elected president of Nigeria,” the group reported. “He has done virtually nothing to address the behavior of his fellow tribesmen in the Middle Belt and in the south of the country.”

On Jan. 30 Christian Solidarity International (CSI) issued a genocide warning for Nigeria, calling on the Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council to take action. CSI issued the call in response to “a rising tide of violence directed against Nigerian Christians and others classified as ‘infidels’ by Islamist militants in the country’s north and middle belt regions.’”

Nigeria ranked 12th on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution but second in the number of Christians killed for their faith, behind Pakistan.

If you would like to help persecuted Christians, visit http://morningstarnews.org/resources/aid-agencies/ for a list of organizations that can orient you on how to get involved.

If you or your organization would like to help enable Morning Star News to continue raising awareness of persecuted Christians worldwide with original-content reporting, please consider collaborating at https://morningstarnews.org/donate/?

Article originally published by Morning Star News. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Harvepino

LAHORE, Pakistan, October 28, 2020 (Morning Star News) – A 13-year-old Christian girl kidnapped by a Muslim man in Pakistan leapt toward her mother when she spotted her outside a courtroom on Tuesday (Oct. 27), but her family was not permitted to enter as a judge validated the 45-year-old abductor’s Islamic “marriage” to the child, sources said.

Refusing to acknowledge documentation of the girl’s age and the Catholic family’s pleas that Ali Azhar forcibly converted Arzoo Raja to Islam, Sindh High Court Justice K.K. Agha ruled the marriage was valid and instructed police not to “harass the newlywed couple,” said rights advocate Ghazala Shafique.

“All of us, including Arzoo’s family and people supporting their cause for justice, are in deep shock and grief after the high court allowed the accused to walk away with the minor girl in front of our eyes,” Shafique told Morning Star News.

In trial court earlier in the day, Azhar’s defense team argued for dismissal of the kidnapping charges while the legal team for the family asserted that Arzoo was the victim of forcible conversion and marriage, Shafique said. The family and their legal team were awaiting a court ruling after the hearing when they learned that Azhar’s team had filed a petition in the high court, she said.

“We rushed to the high court where Arzoo and the accused Azhar were present along with his family members and several lawyers,” Shafique said. “As soon as Arzoo saw her mother, she leapt towards her, but the police and Azhar’s family members dragged her away and forced her into the courtroom of Justice K.K. Agha.”

When the girl's family and their legal team tried to enter the courtroom, they were manhandled by police and Azhar’s family, Shafique said.

“We begged them to let us in, but they refused to budge from the door,” she said. “They did not even allow Arzoo’s parents to enter the courtroom.”

A few minutes later police brought the accused out of the courtroom and said the judge had ordered that Arzoo be sent to a government shelter for women.

“But it was a lie, because when we read the judgment, it stated that Arzoo had admitted in court that she had converted to Islam and married Azhar willingly,” Shafique said.

Underage girls in such cases in Pakistan come under intense pressure, including threats to them and their families, to give false statements in court.

“Justice Agha gave this verdict because he did not get to hear the family’s side of the story,” Shafique said. “Had the police and family members of the accused let Arzoo’s parents enter the courtroom, they could have informed the judge that the documents presented in court regarding their daughter’s age were fake and the photo of the girl pasted on the papers was not Arzoo’s.”

Azhar abducted Arzoo in Karachi’s Muhalla Railway Colony West Camp Road locality on Oct. 13, according to the family, which registered a kidnapping case on the same day. On Oct. 15 police summoned them to the local station and showed them documents claiming that Arzoo was 18 years old and had willingly converted to Islam after marrying Azhar.

Advocate Tabbasum Yousaf of the Sindh High Court said the underage marriage of Arzoo was a violation of the constitution and law, and that the judge failed to consider these legal provisions.

“If somebody is forced into marriage, it’s tantamount to sexual assault,” Yousaf told Morning Star News.

Sections 4, 5 and 8 of the Sindh Marriage Restraint Act forbid marriage of any person under the age of 18 regardless of free will. Arzoo’s parents provided legal documents from the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) showing she was born on July 31, 2007 and is only 13 years old. Sexual intercourse with a girl below the age of 16 is statutory rape and carries a death sentence or a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison in Pakistan.

This is the second case of forced conversion of underage Christian girls in Karachi in a year. In October 2019, 14-year-old Huma Younas was kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam.

In Faisalabad, Punjab Province, 14-year-old Maira Shahbaz was kidnapped and forcibly married and converted to Islam earlier this year. After sending her to a shelter, a court in Lahore on Aug. 4 ordered her to be returned to her abductor based on forged documents, but she escaped on Aug. 22. She told Morning Star News her abductor had blackmailed her into giving false court statements that she had willingly converted and married him.

Favorable Precedent

There is some precedent for justice in Pakistan. In 2018, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) sent a 12-year-old Christian girl back to her parents after the child failed to convince the court that she had willingly converted to Islam in order to marry the man.

According to reports, when asked what her name was, the girl gave a Muslim name and stated that she had converted to Islam “for the purpose of marriage only.”

The court also noted that according to NADRA records, the girl was born on May 20, 2005, meaning that she was below the age of 13 at that time.

IHC’s Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui ruled that he was not convinced that the girl had accepted Islam of her free will and in a secure environment, stating, “rather it appears to be result of inducement and compulsion.”

“I am constrained to observe that this sort of act of abduction and taking [the] shelter of Islam is totally uncalled for and unacceptable,” the judge wrote, adding that Muslims, Christians and all other citizens are equal when it comes to constitutional guarantees.

The judge observed that it appeared prima facie that the accused Muslim man and his father connived with each other to abduct the girl, and he directed police to investigate the matter further. The court also ruled that the validity of the minor girl's marriage certificate with the accused was questionable and needed to be resolved by a family court.

According to data compiled by the Peoples Commission for Minorities’ Rights and the Centre for Social Justice, of 156 incidents of forced conversions which took place between 2013 and 2019, a vast majority of the girls are minors, with numerous cases of girls as young as 12 years old. Muslim groups oppose a minimum age for conversion or marriage, claiming that this is not sanctioned by Islam.

Although intercourse with a girl below the age of 16 is statutory rape, in most cases a falsified conversion certificate and Nikahnama, or Islamic marriage certificate, influences police to pardon kidnappers.

Pakistan ranked fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors 2020 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, and on Nov. 28, 2018, the United States added Pakistan to its blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom.

If you would like to help persecuted Christians, visit http://morningstarnews.org/resources/aid-agencies/ for a list of organizations that can orient you on how to get involved.

If you or your organization would like to help enable Morning Star News to continue raising awareness of persecuted Christians worldwide with original-content reporting, please consider collaborating at https://morningstarnews.org/donate/?

Related:

Christian Girl, 13, Forcibly Married, Converted in Pakistan, Father Says

Article originally published by Morning Star News. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: Sameer Akhtari/Unsplash

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