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'It Is the Church that Is Under Attack': The Persecution of Christians, October 2023

Regrettably, this scenario—a fire claims Christian lives, only for Muslim authorities to say it was "accidental"—has played out many times in the Middle East.

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El Vaticano | Foto: Cordon Press GALAZKA_2A2R6816/Crédito:Grzegorz Galazka/SIPA/2311031558

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The following are among the abuses and murders inflicted on Christians by Muslims throughout the month of October 2023.

The Sexual Abuse and Forced Conversion of Christians

Pakistan: Three Muslim men abducted and violently gang-raped a 16-year-old Christian girl, Persis Masih, on her way to Sunday church service. The girl's father, a pastor, and most of the family had left early for church, while Persis continued to get ready. She never appeared at church and was not home when they returned. After immediately filing a report with police, "the family spent a sleepless night contacting relatives in the hope of finding Persis," according to the Oct. 1 report. Eventually,

"[T]he family heard Persis moaning for help outside their gate. The culprits, realizing the severity of her condition, had callously dropped her off. Supported by her elder brother Yessi Masih, Persis was brought inside the house, her physical and emotional state in shambles... [After rushing her to a hospital, the] medical examination revealed the horrifying truth—Persis had been gang-raped. Despite the trauma, she bravely identified one of the perpetrators, Muhammad Atif, thanks to the assistance of the local police and CCTV footage."

Police acted quickly and arrested Atif before he fled the region. After commending police for this uncharacteristic move—police in Pakistan are notorious for turning a blind eye to the persecution of Christians—a local reporter, Aliyas Wattu, remarked that, "Persis was also beaten, and she bears visible marks of violence on her body." The report concludes that "Persis' suffering did not end with the assault; she bore visible marks of violence. The family, already grappling with the emotional toll, faces an arduous journey towards justice."

In a separate incident, "a gang of armed robbers subjected two Christian women to sexual assault at gunpoint while keeping the men tied up and confined to a room." According to the report, "This nightmarish event occurred in the early hours of September 14th." Shortly after midnight, when the entire family was asleep, six men quietly broke into the Christian household. The father, Intezar Masih, his wife Rani (41), his sister Farzana (36), and children were, "to their sheer horror," rudely awakened to find themselves "encircled by six masked men brandishing firearms." According to Intezar, "We were warned not to make any noise, as the armed robbers were armed with pistols and heavy guns." Two of the men held the family hostage, as the other four ransacked the house, "looting everything they could lay their hands on." Then they took Intezar and his children to a separate room: "Two of the robbers," he said, "forcibly dragged me by my shoulder, took the children inside the room, beat me severely, and eventually tied me up with a rope before departing."

"The children and their patriarch were left bound and confined to the room, while Rani Bibi (41 years old) was taken to another room, where she cried out for mercy while enduring horrific sexual assaults by two of the men. Simultaneously, two other assailants took Farzana Bibi into a separate room, where she became the victim of sexual assault at gunpoint.
"After this horrendous ordeal, Rani Bibi was brought back to the veranda, only to be taken to Mr. Masih's welding workshop, where the remaining robbers subjected her to further sexual violence. The criminals left the family in a state of utter pain, trauma, and fear, warning them of dire consequences if they attempted to pursue them or contact the police...."

Discussing this incident, Juliet Chowdhry, of the British Asian Christian Association, said:

"As the sole Christian family in the area, it appears that this crime targeted them due to their vulnerability and the sense of impunity that perpetrators often feel when targeting marginalized communities."

Finally, a separate Oct. 24 report documents other previous cases of abduction, rape, and forced conversion of Christian girls. In one, Mishal, a 15-year-old Christian girl was "abducted at gunpoint," then "gang-raped by four men":

"These rapes are unfortunately customary and serve a specific purpose. It is believed that once no longer a virgin, a girl would become unsuitable for marriage, even if she belongs to a religious minority, and her only choice would be to marry one of her captors. Mishal was then forcibly converted to Islam and married to one of the kidnappers."

Six months later, when her abductors were distracted with a funeral, Mishal managed to escape and return to her father's home. But when she and her father went to report the kidnappers and rapists to police, "Not only did the officers refuse to investigate, but they also informed Mishal's captors of what was going on. The girl and her father had to go into hiding for fear of being killed."

After pointing out that "Christian and Hindu girls continue to be abducted, raped, forcibly converted to Islam, and married to Muslim men in Pakistan," the report adds:

"This obnoxious practice would not prosper without some complicity by police and courts of law. Some cases do land in courts. But it is not easy for the victims to win them. Sometimes, the victims are treated as if they were the perpetrators.... Meanwhile, the business of kidnapping minority religion girls continues. The whereabouts of another Christian girl, Tabita, daughter of Razzak Mashi, kidnapped by four men on September 29, are still unknown. Her case was reported to the police on October 5, together with a birth certificate proving she is twelve years old, as her captors will probably claim, as usual, [that] she is really 18. Whether the police will do anything about Tabita is a different question."

Nigeria: Muslims, including college personnel, abducted and forcibly converted Dorcas, a 20-year-old Christian college student to Islam. According to Campus Mission Watch, a Christian watchdog group, during a brief communication with her parents,

"Miss Dorcas told her parents that she was taken to an imam's house, the imam of Sultan Bello Mosque, in the city of Kaduna, where she was kept against her will and threatened not to disclose that she was coerced into embracing Islam, before being brought back to campus. She also told her parents that one Muslim woman, Mallama Amina, an academic staff in the Department of Biochemistry, was appointed as her godmother, who facilitated her forceful conversion to Islam through the renouncing of Christianity and the recitation of Kalma Sha'ada, the Islamic creed.... Dorcas remains with the Muslim leaders and has not been allowed to have any contact with her parents or other Christians on campus. This development has created fear in Christians on KASU campus, forcing some to want to leave."

Campus Mission Watch added that a well-financed campus group called the Council of Muslim Sisters, which is supported by Muslim leaders in Kaduna state and the Muslim-controlled state government, has implemented a plan to forcibly convert Christians to Islam:

"This group is made up of highly placed and influential female staff in the university. Some of them are professors, directors, senior lecturers from academic and non-academic cadres. They are well coordinated and professionally structured. They have agents at the top management level, directorate levels, faculty levels, department levels, and even at the Student Union levels."

Attacks on Muslim Converts to Christianity

Kyrgyzstan: Converts to Christianity are openly being targeted for persecution in the Central Asian Muslim nation. According to an October report:

"[V]ideos inciting hatred towards Kyrgyz Christians who have converted from Islam are being widely distributed on the internet.
"In these videos, Christian believers are called sectarians (strong supporters of a minority group or 'sect') and traitors of the nation and native faith. The creators of these videos are calling for people to break into Christian communities and churches to capture the faces of believers on video and then distribute their images online to encourage persecution."

As an example, the article tells the story of Mahri (not her real name), aged 24:

"[She] used to go to church with her mother, a former Uyghur Muslim. Mahri's mother's relatives were completely against her Christian faith, and didn't offer any help when Mahri's dad passed away.
"Unfortunately, Mahri's mother also died, and Mahri went to live with her aunt – who has completely forbidden her to believe in Jesus, attend house church meetings and have any communication with other believers. Every time Mahri leaves the house, her aunt bombards her with questions: 'Where are you going? Who are you seeing?' Mahri's phone is constantly checked, and she's not even allowed to attend school.
"Recently, Mahri was able to attend church where she shared her situation. She's understandably anxious and exhausted."

Egypt and Yemen: According to an Amnesty International:

"Yemeni asylum seeker, Abdul-Baqi Saeed Abdo, who has been arbitrary detained in Egypt for over 20 months, is at risk of deportation to Yemen, where his life would be at risk. Abdul-Baqi Saeed Abdo and his family were forced to flee Yemen for Egypt in 2014 after being subjected to violent attacks with impunity following his announcement of his conversion to Christianity on social media. Egyptian security forces arrested him on 15 December 2021 and forcibly disappeared [sic] him for two weeks, before bringing him for interrogations before a prosecutor, who ordered his pretrial detention pending investigations on bogus charges of 'joining a terrorist group' and 'defamation of the Islamic religion'. He is held solely for exercising his rights to freedom of expression, conscience and belief and must be immediately released; any plans to deport him must be halted."

Uganda: Soon after converting and attending churches in late September, 2023, Sula Mugudi, 70, and his wife, Aisha, 62, returned to their modest home only to find it destroyed by their outraged relatives:

"As we returned back to our grass-thatched roof house, we found some of the debris around the house. On entering the house, we found there was a threatening message, 'Today if we find you around, we shall destroy you with the house. You have become an embarrassment to our Muslim family by joining a wrong religion.'"

They immediately fled: "It was a very difficult moment for us – no place to stay, no clothing and beddings. According to a pastor who helped them:

"When the couple arrived at our church, they looked shaken and fearful. The church has hidden them for the sake of the church as well for the lives of these two new Christians. We need prayers for God's protection and providence."

The Muslim Slaughter of Christians

Democratic Republic of Congo: On Oct. 24, Muslims of the Allied Democratic Forces, which is connected to the Islamic State, slaughtered at least 39 Christians, including 12 children, in a spate of attacks. "Many of these people are Christians, they were servants of God, and teachers in our schools," related Reverend Gabriel, a church leader in Oicha. "It is the church that is under attack."

This is only the latest attack. The same terrorist group massacred 17 Christians and torched two churches in July. Before that, in June, they hacked 12 people to death — four children, four women, and four men — in the nation, which is predominately Christian. According to officials, the Muslims "were opening doors and decapitating people with hatchets and machetes."

"We don't need humanitarian aid, but we do want security," one frustrated local said discussing these latest massacres of October. According to another local, Christians are "in despair and disillusionment. They are losing hope."

"This is a bad situation," said Pastor Paluku Bagheni Joseph, adding:

"Really pray for us so that everything [meaning the funerals of 39 recently slain] can happen in peace, and pray for the situation we are going through, because the fear increased when the enemies entered the city. Your prayers are very important to us at this time when we are going through pain."

Uganda: On Oct. 17, "suspected Islamic terrorists" murdered three Christians—a Ugandan tour guide and a European couple—in Queen Elizabeth National Park, on the accusation that they were "supporting Christians in Uganda and coming in the name of tourists."

Nigeria: A few October instances of the ongoing genocide of Christians:

- Oct. 2: Muslim Fulani herdsmen raided a Christian village during the night "and sprayed bullets on the bodies of innocent people while sleeping," killing eight, an eyewitness said.

- Oct. 29: "Fulani herdsmen and other terrorists" slaughtered six Christians in Benue state, "following the slaughter of 10 others earlier this month."

- Oct. 17: Muslim terrorists slaughtered a Christian doctor and his driver with machetes.

- Sept. 30: Terrorists killed one Christian and abducted 19 others, "a day after gunmen in the country's southwest intercepted a church bus and kidnapped 25 members."

- Oct. 7: Terrorists kidnapped at least 30 Christians

General Muslim Persecution of Christians

Uganda: On Oct. 10, six Muslims shouting, "Kafir [Infidel]!" and the jihadist slogan "Allah akbar" [Allah is greatest] attacked 27-year-old Robert Settimba, a well-known Christian street preacher, as he was returning home. According to his friend, an eyewitness:

"The Muslims got hold of him and started kicking and boxing him as others came beating him with sticks, as I watched from a distance, helpless. Some bystanders were shouting at me to disappear or else the attackers will also beat me up. I then left my friend lying down."

He ran to a nearby church to recruit some aid. When they returned, they found Robert unconscious and took him to a local hospital.

Iraq: On Oct. 3, more than 100 Christians were burned alive after a fire broke out during a Christian wedding ceremony; another 150 attendees were seriously injured. Nearly 60 of those killed were directly related to the bride and groom. In a press conference held on the same day, the Iraqi government announced that its investigation had "conclusively concluded" that the fire was "accidental," caused by fireworks, and "not intentional at all." Minutes later, the Syriac Church slammed the announcement: "We reject it [the conclusion], we don't accept it," said the Archbishop of Mosul Benedictus Younan Hanno, adding that "political conspiracies" might be afoot. Regarding the claim that the fire was caused by fireworks, "there are tens of videos," the archbishop added, "showing that they were not the reason." After also categorically rejecting the fireworks claim, the bridegroom, Rivan, 27, insisted that the fore has been cause by arson:

"We demand the rights of those whose blood was spilt. Why did their blood have to be spilled? We demand their rights and we demand the perpetrator of this action, him and all who are behind him. We demand an international investigation, not a local or federal investigation."

Regrettably, this scenario—a fire claims Christian lives, only for Muslim authorities to say it was "accidental"—has played out many times in the Middle East.

Muslim Attacks on Christian Churches and Symbols

Italy: On Oct. 6, Arabic graffiti was found on the bell tower of a church in Sacille. In translation, the Arabic stated the primary half of the Islamic credo: "There is no god but Allah" (the continuation is "and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah"). This was not the first time the church was targeted. According to the report, in December of 2022, the church

"reported the theft of the Baby Jesus displayed in the parish nativity scene in the church square. Shortly after that, the sacristy doors were unhinged and everything within the sacristy was found desecrated, causing thousands of euros of damage. More recent to this incident, the parish recorded acts of vandalism in the cemetery, where crosses were kicked down. Also, a few weeks ago a few teenagers occupied the oratory without consent, abandoning bottles of spirits, cigarette butts and remnants of joints.

Separately, on Oct. 11, four teenage boys vandalized, desecrated, and tried to torch the Church of Carmine in Noci. Among other things, "the children also blasphemed heavily, danced, and undressed." One report said:

"The children were in the church for 30 minutes when they broke off the doors of the tabernacle, tampered with the organ, threw hand sanitizer on the floor, threw waste inside the church, and set fire in the skylight. Luckily the fire did not spread to other parts of the church. The teenagers also damaged the security cameras, but by then the footage of their actions had already been archived."

They were accordingly found by police. Because the incident "raised anger and indignation among the citizens of Noci," a meeting was held with the boys and their parents. Having been caught, they "sincerely apologized."

Spain: Two churches were vandalized in Andalusia, which contains the nation's second largest Muslim community. According to the report,

"Two churches were vandalized in Andalusia: the Virgen de las Flores Convent Church in Malaga and the Puerto Real Hospital Chapel in Cadiz. The attacks happened in September of 2023 and were reported on October 3, 2023. In the Puerto Real Hospital the perpetrators took a consecrated host, while in the Virgen de las Flores Convent they scattered the consecrated hosts on the floor, took the mantle of Mary and the image of Baby Jesus."

Germany: Two churches in a region with a large Muslim presence were vandalized by a group of "youth" loitering in the darkness. According to the report,

"During October, two churches in the city of Bonn in Germany were vandalized: paving stones were thrown into the windows of the Saint Lambert Catholic church in mid-October, then, closer to the end of the month, the billboards of the Saint Elisabeth church were tagged. Members of the parish council tell the local press that the exterior of the church is regularly vandalized, as young people meet under the church porch until late at night. This has already been reported to the police numerous times – without any solution being found."

France: On Oct. 7—the same day as Hamas massacred 1,200 Israelis—three Muslim men (described in reports only as "North Africans") entered into the Saint Christophe church in Tourcoing during a wedding was being and began to disrupt the service. When a woman asked them to "respect the religious service" or else she would call police, they threatened her with "death by decapitation," before fleeing, the report stated. Discussing this incident, a police source said that "The parish priest regularly receives threats without reporting them to the police."

Separately, a beloved Christian statue of Beatrice of Savoy in Echelles, which depicts her holding a cross, was found decapitated on Oct. 31. The head was nowhere to be found. Beatrice, a thirteenth century countess, is renowned for her charitable disposition and generous donations to the poor. "The case," according to the report, "remains mysterious."

Greece: On Oct. 19, a Syrian man barged into the Saint Panteleimonas Church in Athens, where he began shouting the jihadist war-cry, "Allahu akbar" ("Allah is Greatest") and engaging in Islamic prostrations. Police arrived on the scene and restrained him despite his resistance. A large knife was found in his backpack. According to the report, "The man is known to the authorities as he has created similar problems in the past, while he was once taken for a psychiatric examination."

Germany and Sweden: Two Syrian brothers who were arrested for planning to bomb a church in Sweden in retaliation to a Koran desecration there were nevertheless prosecuted in Germany. To quote from the Oct. 4 report,

"A pair of Syrian brothers from Hamburg and Kempten (Bavaria) wanted to kill many people in an attack with explosives. The scene of the crime was to be a church in Sweden."

One of the Muslim brothers, 29, has been charged with "attempted membership in a terrorist organization abroad, preparation of a serious act of violence endangering the state and financing of terrorism." The other brother, 24, was charged with "probable cause for supporting a terrorist organization abroad and aiding and abetting the financing of terrorism."

Uganda: On Sunday, Oct. 15, police managed to thwart an Islamic terror plot to bomb two churches. The bombs were concealed as gifts and mailed to local pastors. Police managed to locate and defuse them on time.

© Gatestone Institute