ETHIOPIA: One dead, thousands displaced in Islamist attacks

Ethiopia MapAt least one Christian has been killed and many injured in Islamist attacks in southwestern Ethiopia.

Thousands of extremists set fire to 69 churches, a Bible school and a Christian orphanage and burned down the homes of 30 Christian leaders. At least 7,000 Christians have fled and are in shelters. The Christian who was killed is believed to have been a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

The extremists also destroyed a Bible School and two church office buildings. Of the church buildings torched, at least 46 belonged to Kale Hiwot (Word of Life) Church; the 23 others belonged to churches including Mekane Yesus (twelve), Seventh-day Adventist (six), Muluwongel (two) and “Jesus Only” (one). The cost of the attack is estimated at over €2.5million.

The attacks began on 2 March 2011 in Asendabo, a predominantly Muslim town in the Jimma region, about 300 kilometres southwest of Addis Ababa, after Muslims accused a Christian from the Kale Hiwot Church of desecrating the Quran/of flushing copies of the Quran down the toilet and using its pages as toilet paper.

“Within a short period of time a large group of Muslims attacked our church screaming, ‚ÄòAllahu Akhbar’,” said Temesgen Wolde, coordinator of Kale Hiwot in Jimma region. The conflict spread out from Asendabo to other towns within two days, as enormous mobs rampaged throughout the area. Temesgen commented, “This puzzles me. Although I don’t have any evidence it looks like a strategic plan to hurt our church and followers.”

Teshome Degefu, mayor of Asendabo, claimed that the conflict was not religious but political. “An opposition group of Muslim extremists called Kawarja has incited the attacks,” he said, adding that the radicals had been preaching religious intolerance and stirring up Muslims during secret out-of-town gatherings, leading to an organised attack.
Imam Hadjima Mehamed Adem, of the Tofik Mosque in Asendabo, said that he was sure his followers were not among the attackers: “I tried to stop the angry crowd, but they wouldn’t listen… They were youngsters from outside the village who have been brainwashed by Kawarja extremists.”

Church leaders reported the attacks to the authorities and asked for help, but little was forthcoming. “The church requested more police protection,” said an Addis Ababa pastor. “The authorities sent security forces, but they were overwhelmed by the attackers.” After days of inaction by local police, the government stepped in to end the violence, and removed the city’s Muslim administrator for his failure to protect the Christians. To date, 130 Muslims have been arrested.

The attacks erupted as heavy fighting was taking place at the borders with Kenya and Somalia, where Ethiopian troops were trying to repel Islamic extremist al-Shabaab troops from Somalia. Many were injured and hundreds displaced.

Ethiopia’s constitution and laws generally respect freedom of religion, but attacks on the church are common in predominantly Muslim areas, where Christians are often subject to harassment and intimidation. In 2006 at least 24 people were killed in anti-Christian attacks in western Ethiopia. About 60% of the population are Christians and about 34% are Sunni Muslims.

(Compass Direct News, International Christian Concern, Radio Netherlands Worldwide)