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Christians killed in Burkina Faso attack

International | Heightened attacks could fuel intercommunal unrest
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 5/21/19, 03:41 pm

An armed attack that killed at least four Catholics during a religious procession in northern Burkina Faso last week raised concerns that the growing extremist violence could stoke a larger crisis.

Gunmen attacked a group carrying a statue of Mary on May 13 in the Diocese of Ouahigouya in the Nord region. “They let the minors go, executed four adults, and destroyed the statue,” Burkina Faso’s AIB news agency reported.

Paul Ouedraogo, president of the Episcopal Conference of Burkina Faso and Niger, confirmed the casualties during a meeting of bishops in the capital city of Ouagadougou.

A day earlier, at least 20 gunmen stormed a Catholic church in the town of Dablo, also in the Nord region, and killed six people, including the priest, the Rev. Simeon Yamba.

On April 28, at least six people died in a similar attack on a Protestant church in the northeastern province of Soum, where the gunmen asked the worshippers to convert to Islam. More than 100 Christians fled the region in search of safety farther south, World Watch Monitor reported.

Extremist attacks are on the rise in the West African nation with a history of tolerance, from 29 reported cases in 2017 to 137 in 2018, according to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. Catholics and Protestants make up about 24 percent of Burkina Faso’s population, while Muslims account for 60 percent. The remaining population subscribes to indigenous beliefs.

No group has claimed responsibility for the latest surge in attacks, but the affected region borders conflict-ridden Mali.

William Assanvo, an analyst with the Institute for Security Studies, said insecurity has extended to the eastern part of the country near the shared border with Niger, adding that terror groups like Burkina Faso–based Ansarul Islam and the Macina Liberation Front from central Mali remain active in the northern region.

“It’s something that can fuel intercommunal violence if we are not careful about knowing who’s behind the attacks,” he explained.

Burkina Faso belongs to a joint force combating regional terrorism along with Chad, Mali, Niger, and Mauritania. The United Nations humanitarian agency this month warned of “unprecedented levels” of insecurity and armed attacks in the region.

Burkina Faso Foreign Minister Alpha Barry on Thursday told the UN Security Council the situation “is continuing to deteriorate” and called for international support.

In January, bishops in the country condemned the rising violence during their plenary meeting and urged authorities to “safeguard, while there is still time, the inalienable human values of fraternity, understanding, solidarity, forgiveness, peace, and mutual love in view of preserving social cohesion without which development is not possible.”

Assanvo said the government’s immediate response to the unrest involves heightened security. But the Rev. Leonard Tegwende Kinda, general secretary of the Association of Reformed Evangelical Churches in Burkina Faso, told Religion News Service the long-term solution to the insecurity should include efforts to strengthen the social fabric.

“It is definitely helpful to strengthen social justice projects and especially initiate a new generation of interreligious activities at ground level and involve local leaders,” Kinda said. “We need to advocate for good governance and community-handled development plans.”

Associated Press/Photo by Amr Nabil (file) Associated Press/Photo by Amr Nabil (file) Villagers warn against looting outside an ancient pyramid in Dahshour, Egypt.

History for sale on Facebook

Looters in Syria and other conflict-hit Middle Eastern countries are using Facebook to sell pillaged artifacts in an ongoing transnational scheme.

Amr al-Azm, a professor of Middle East history and anthropology at Shawnee State University in Ohio, monitored the trafficking process for years with his colleagues at the Athar Project.

He said tens of thousands of members have joined dozens of mostly Arabic private Facebook groups. Members exchange ideas on how to locate and dig up sites and also share “loot-to-order” requests, the BBC reported earler this month. The final transactions occur on private messaging apps like WhatsApp.

“They’re being looted straight from the ground,” al-Azm told The New York Times. “They have never been seen. The only evidence we have of their existence is if someone happens to post a picture of them.”

In Syria, looting began around 2012 during the Arab Spring revolution but reached new heights under Islamic State rule, he explained. Other artifacts come from Egypt, Iraq, Libya, and Tunisia. Last year, a police raid in Barcelona uncovered mosaics and sarcophagi from Egypt and from ancient Greco-Roman sites in Libya.

In response to the BBC report, Facebook said it removed 49 groups from its platform, but al-Azm said about 90 of the groups remain active. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Michael Gruber Associated Press/Photo by Michael Gruber Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz

Scandal prompts snap election in Austria

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called for a snap election over the weekend after his vice chancellor stepped down due to a corruption scandal.

In a statement released Saturday, Kurz said he asked President Alexander Van der Bellen to hold a new vote as soon as possible. Van der Bellen hinted at a possible vote in September.

A 2017 video released by German newspapers shows Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and party colleague Johann Gudenus meeting on the Spanish resort island of Ibiza and offering government contracts to a purported Russian woman in exchange for supporting the party.

Kurz’s center-right People’s Party is in a coalition government with Strache’s far-right Freedom Party. In his resignation, Strache said he was intoxicated and called his behavior “stupid, irresponsible, and a mistake.” But he claimed the video was a political assassination committed with illegal surveillance.

Concern is growing over Russia’s ties with right-wing populist parties pushing for tighter immigration laws in the European Union. The EU Parliament election is scheduled for later this week. —O.O.

Associated Press (file) Associated Press (file) Asia Bibi at a prison in Sheikhupura near Lahore, Pakistan

Bibi’s lawyer to defend more Christians

Saif-ul Malook, who represented Asia Bibi, will defend a Christian couple convicted of blasphemy against Islam and currently on death row in Pakistan, The Guardian reported last week. Malook fled Pakistan temporarily in 2018 due to death threats following Bibi’s successful appeal of her blasphemy charges.

Shagufta Kousar and Shafqat Masih of Punjab province were convicted in 2014 of charges of sending blasphemous texts to a Muslim. Advocates say the man and woman are illiterate and could not be guilty. Kousar and Masih are appealing to the high court in Lahore.

“We have heard about the case of Shagufta and her husband,” Henrietta Blyth of Open Doors told The Guardian. “There are alarming similarities with the case of Asia Bibi and we grieve with the families and communities involved.”

Bibi, who is Catholic, spent eight years on death row for blasphemy against Islam after a 2009 incident with two Muslim women who worked on a farm with her and refused to drink water from the container she used. She was granted her freedom and arrived in Canada earlier this month. Kousar and Masih are just two of the 218 Christians still imprisoned for blasphemy in Pakistan, according to Release International. —Julia A. Seymour

Iranian city bans women from cycling

Female cyclists in Iran protested after a central Iranian city banned women from riding bicycles in public last week. Prosecutor Ali Esfahani in the city of Isfahan called women’s cycling a “sinful act” and said police will start to give women notices and collect their identification.

“First-time offenders will have to go to the security police and sign a pledge,” he said. “If they repeat this sinful act two or three times, they will be punished in accordance with the Islamic Penal Code.”

In 2016, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa forbidding women from riding bicycles in public. But the declaration was mostly unenforced.

Hundreds of women in Isfahan posted photos and videos on social media of themselves on their bicycles. At Tehran University, students carried placards that read, “Freedom of choice is our inalienable right.” —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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