The Christian Elders Forum of Northern States, CEFNS, called on the Federal Government to rebuild the over 400 churches destroyed by Boko Haram insurgency in the region.
This is even as the Defence Headquarters, DHQ, yesterday sent a high powered team of senior officers to Baga, Borno State, to assess the recent military operation in the town.
Also, six policemen and five members of the Boko Haram Islamic sect were killed in fresh clashes in Borno and Yobe states.
The NESCEF leaders, who met at their annual conference in Abuja, also called on President Goodluck Jonathan not to grant state pardon or amnesty to the Boko Haram sect.
In a communiqué signed by its Chairman and Secretary- General, Evangelist Mathew Owojaiye and Mr. Iliya Yusuf respectively, the NOSCEF said the present atmosphere of insecurity facing the nation would not give Nigerians credible elections in 2015.
The forum added that the Federal Government must rebuild the churches destroyed by the insurgents in the North, while it must also compensate Christian victims before any pardon could be granted.
The communiqué reads in part: “Over 400 churches have been destroyed or closed down. Christians are now being individually targeted and eliminated. Thousands of Christian businesses ruined, over 1,500 Christians, innocent lives wiped out. Why is government not talking about pardon to Boko Haram but amnesty? There should be no discussion of amnesty to Boko Haram until all the victims have been adequately compensated.”
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence has sent assessment team to Borno State to find out what happened in the border town of Baga last weekend in which close to 200 persons were killed in clashes between soldiers and Boko Haram insurgents.
President Jonathan had said on Wednesday that soldiers found guilty of committing atrocities will be punished.
Leader of the assessment team, who is also the Chief of Training and Operations, Defence Headquarters, Major Gen. Lawrence Ngubani, while on a courtesy call on Governor Kashim Shettima, said the team was mandated to find out the veracity or otherwise of the casualty figures as widely reported by local and international media.
According to Gen. Ngubani, the team was constituted at the instance of Chief of Defence Staff, (CDS), Admiral Ola Ibrahim, following the global outcry over the high level of purported number of victims reported by the media.
“The CDS felt that there was urgent need for the Defence Headquarters to carry out an independent and comprehensive on the spot assessment to find out if the actual number of civilians, claimed to have been killed in the violence is indeed true. So we are in the state to interact with the local officials, surviving victims, traditional and religious leaders as well as other stakeholders of the affected community”, he said.
The military chief added that the latest preliminary assessment of the entire episode proved that the casualty figures being reported were far from the truth, they were actually exaggerated.
“The assessment team visited Baga town and had an audience with the victims and other and relevant persons. We visited two separate graveyards where the dead victims were purportedly buried, what we saw was extremely below what was reported. We are not undermining the death of a single Nigerian, in fact it is a great loss to the nation”, he declared.
Gen. Ngubani further reiterated the determination of the Nigerian Army to partner with the state government in addressing the persistent security challenges confronting the state and the entire country at large.
In his remarks, Governor Shettima regretted the Baga killings, saying the number of the victims should not be a center of great concern, rather even it were a death of a single Nigerian, similar concern should be displayed.
“The time of who to be blamed for the incident should not be an issue for now, rather we should all concentrate on how best to restore peace and normalcy”, Shettima said.
The governor restated the determination of his administration in tackling abject poverty among youths, which described as the underlining cause of the Boko Haram insurgency.
Meanwhile, the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, yesterday began the distribution of relief materials to victims of the Baga clash.
Already the agency and the Nigeria Red Cross who arrived in the town on Wednesday have set up camps for the victims.
The camp was set up at the Local Government Clinic in Baga town.
Materials distributed include food items, mats, clothing and toiletries.
Some of the victims who needed medical attention were also attended to by the agency and the Red Cross team.
NEMA Director of Rescue and Search Operations, Air Commodore Charles Otebegde, who led a delegation of the agency officials from Abuja, said they were in the town following a directive from President Jonathan to provide immediate relief to the affected victims.
On Wednesday, the North-East Zonal Coordinator of the agency, Alhaji Mohammed Kanar, led a team of officials to some villages where some of the victims relocated and the agency convinced them to come to the camp.
Among those presently at the camps, Aisha Sanni Gogobiri, a 30-year-old mother of seven said her husband is still missing since the crisis erupted.
She was evacuated along with her seven children by the NEMA team to the camp.
Meanwhile, gunmen suspected to be members of the sect laid ambush to a patrol vehicle in Bama Local Government Area of Borno State, killing four occupants.
National Mirror learnt that the terrorists attempted to kidnap the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, who was suspected to be aboard the vehicle, but he escaped.
However, the hoodlums were said to have escaped from the scene in the patrol vehicle.
Bama is about 70 kilometres from Maiduguri.
Our correspondent gathered that the incident took place about 10a.m. around Bama central market when the terrorists, armed with sophisticated weapons, came in four unmarked vehicles and shot sporadically throwing explosives targeted at some security posts in the town.
While trying to repel the attacks, a reliable source said, the four policemen were killed. Several shops and residential houses close to the Bama central market were equally set ablaze during the encounter.
In a text message sent to newsmen in Maiduguri, the Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Gideon Jubrin said no DPO was involved in the attack, even as he admitted that there was an attack in Bama, but declined comment on the killing of four policemen, claiming that the details were still sketchy.
In Yobe State, five policemen and 20 people, suspected to be Boko Haram militants died after a midnight shootout between the insurgents and security forces in Gashua town, according to residents and security sources.
Gashua is about 185 kilometres from Damaturu, the state capital, and also a known centre of sect activities, which had witnessed series of killings and bombings in recent times.
The Commissioner of Police in Yobe, Alhaji Sanusi Rufai, said that five policemen and 20 gunmen had been confirmed dead with over N9m carted away from a commercial bank during the attack by Islamic Boko Haram terrorists in Gashua, Yobe on Thursday.
The commissioner, who made the disclosure while briefing newsmen in Damaturu, said that two policemen also sustained injuries and were currently receiving treatment.
He explained that the gunmen had earlier seized the bank manager, forcing him to open the vault where the money was carted away from together with a Peugeot 406 and Toyota Corolla cars.
Rufai said that police and military men later engaged the gunmen in a gun battle, recovering the two cars and an Isuzu Hilux van, belonging to the terrorists.
The commissioner said that two guns, two locally made pistols; two long range rifles; 19 hand grenades and assorted ammunitions were also recovered from the gunmen.
He said that one of the gunmen was captured and was now assisting the police with information on the attack.
“It is the same group using police and military uniforms that attacked Tarmuwa, Gulani and Giedam in recent times,” Rufai said.
Spokesman of the Joint Task Force, JTF, Lt. Eli Lazarus, said in a press statement sent to newsmen that most of the Boko Haram gunmen fled in the heat of the shootout and abandoned their vehicles and cache of arms.
Fati Umar, a female school teacher and resident of Gashua sent a text message out about 1a.m. saying ‘please do pray for us! We are in danger’.
Fati later confirmed on phone to journalists that dozens of Boko Haram gunmen invaded their Mobile Base area about midnight shooting and chanting Islamic slogan ‘Allahu Akbar’, meaning God is great.
“From the way they were moving, it was like they were going from house to house. They fired several gunshots around our house but the gate was firmly locked.
“It was this morning we heard they attacked a police station and the prison,” she said.
Lt. Lazarus said in his statement that the attack started at midnight.
“At about 12 midnight Thursday April 25, 2013, unknown gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram terrorists attacked JTF location in Gashua town, the Police Area Command and Gashua Divisional Police Station. Men of the JTF were able to repel and contain the attack on its location. Reinforcement was however dispatched swiftly and was able to engage the terrorists.
“Two police officers were killed in the attack while five of the suspected terrorists lost their lives during the encounter. Some of the suspected terrorists escaped in two vehicles with injuries while others are believed to still be at large. The fleeing terrorists took away one police Hilux vehicle fitted with siren at the top, one other vehicle, police uniforms and other items from the police stations.
“Items recovered include one Toyota Corolla car, one Peugeot 406 Saloon Car, one Isuzu Pick Up Van, One AK 47 Rifle, one Police Anti- Riot Gun, one locally made pistol, one Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) bomb, one generating set and large quantity of ammunition,” he said.
The spokesman urged the general public to be mindful of the fact that the terrorists are still around and are bent on wrecking havoc and instilling fear in law abiding citizens in order to make life unbearable for them. “Let no one be in doubt however, that JTF would continue to respond appropriately to such attacks”, Lazarus said.
The Task Force also urges all law abiding citizens to remain calm as it is currently on top of the situation. A cordon and search operation is currently on going in Gashua town.
To guard against the influx of illegal immigrants into Nigeria through the numerous borders, the House of Representatives yesterday passed a motion urging the Presidency to erect perimeter fences to demarcate the country’s borders with neighbouring nations like Chad, Mali, Cameroun and others.
The House in its motion sponsored by Hon. Hassan Saleh (PDP-Benue) also seeks to have the demarcations armed with sensors and cameras and decent incentives for immigration staff manning the borders to discourage them from cooperating with illegal immigrants.
In his motion, Saleh noted that most Nigerian land border posts were not “water tight”, despite the importance attached to our borderlines to ensure security, economic and social well-being of the country and its citizens.
He said: “It is disheartening to note that our borders with our neighbours remain poorly and inefficiently managed” adding that “at some of our borders, there are no flags, gates or any form of proper demarcation, rather what has been observed at some border posts such as Seme and Idi-Iroko are demarcations made of bamboo trunks.”
According to the lawmaker, besides the gross lack of security at the borders, “it has been alleged that there exists 1,497 illegal routes into the country, adding that most of our villages, towns and cities are filled with illegal immigrants who go about without any fear of being questioned about the legality of their stay in the country.”
He noted that Nigeria’s borders with other countries stretches through 3,140 kilometres running from Malaville, north of Republic of Benin stretching through Kebbi, Sokoto, Katsina, Jigawa, Yobe, Borno states down to Mfun in Cross River State that has a boundary with Cameroun.
He said that the rising tide of insecurity in the country today is a direct fallout of the porosity of the nation’s borders coupled with the lack of effective manpower, inadequate logistics and lack of conducive working conditions for those charged with the responsibility of manning the border posts.
Nigeria’s neighbours are Benin Republic, which has boundary stretching 773 kilometres in the South West; Niger Republic, 1,500 kilometres in the North West; Chad, 87 kilometers in the North East and Cameroun, 1,680 kilometers from the North East to the South South.
In another development, governors of the 19 northern states have sounded the alarm over the current destruction of lives and property going on in the region, saying that there is trouble.
Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State said except all hands are brought on deck to stop the menace, the danger it portends for the region will forever remain indelible.
Also the Governor of Niger State, Dr Babangida Aliyu, called on his colleagues to wake up to their responsibilities as chief security officers of their various states to ensure that peace returned to the zone even as he noted that the leaders in the North are facing serious challenges.
Speaking yesterday at the meeting of the Northern Governors’ Forum when it received reports of the committee it set up on Reconciliation, Healing and Security in Abuja, Yuguda said he weeps for the blood of innocent Nigerians being shed for no just cause.
He said it was regrettable that values that bound the North in the past had been eroded and thus paved way for the current insurgency going on at the moment.
Welcoming guests earlier, chairman of Northern Governors’ Forum, Aliyu, said he was happy over the report of the committee saying it has opened a new vista for resolving the Boko Haram menace in the country.
The committee in its report called on the northern governors to present a common development focus for the northern states in its bid to tackle the grim social and economic situation of the region.
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A militant serving a 19-year prison sentence for beheading three Christian schoolgirls has escaped while visiting his sick wife and is still at large, Indonesian police said Friday.
National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Boy Rafli Amar said Basri, 36, fled from his house in the Central Sulawesi town of Poso last week when a guard who escorted him from jail to the home left him unguarded for several hours.
Basri, who like many Indonesians uses a single name, was sentenced to 19 years in jail in 2007 for the beheadings and a series of attacks that terrorized Poso, where a Muslim-Christian conflict killed at least 1,000 people from 1998 to 2002.
“When the guard came to take him back to the prison, he found that Basri was no longer at his house,” Amar said. “He is still at large.”
Police are searching for Basri, whom Amar described as a “dangerous militant,” and are investigating why he was escorted by only one guard.
“We call on people who know his whereabouts to report to authorities immediately,” Amar said.
Basri, who was arrested along with five other militants in February 2007, admitted to beheading one of the three girls in late 2005 as they walked to school along a quiet jungle path overlooking Poso.
In an interview with The Associated Press days after their arrests, Basri said he and the other militants learned weapons handling and bomb making from members of the al-Qaida-linked Southeast Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah.
Footage of the 2007 counterterrorism operation that led to their arrest was posted on YouTube and Muslim websites, sparking outrage among Islamic groups.
The video shows uniformed officers from Indonesia’s elite anti-terrorism unit yelling and shooting rounds to scare the shirtless, bound suspects, who were lying face down on the ground. One man wearing only underwear and shown with a bloody hole in his back, presumably from a gunshot wound, was identified as Wiwin Kalahe, another beheading convict.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, has won praise for arresting and convicting terrorists since the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.
Christian converts in Morocco feared for their future Thursday, April 25, after the country’s highest Islamic institute issued a fatwa demanding the death penalty for Muslims who renounce their religion.
The Supreme Ulema Council of Morocco (CSO), a body of Islamic scholars headed by King Mohammed VI, said that Muslims who reject their faith “should be condemned to death.” CSO is the only institution entitled to issue ‘fatwas’, or religious decrees, in Morocco.
The ministry of Islamic affairs declined to comment on the issue.
The fatwa dates back to April 2012 when a legal report was prepared by the government, but it wasn’t published at the time, according to local media.
Mahjoub El Hiba, a senior human rights official in the Moroccan government, denied to reporters that the government received a fatwa on “apostasy” — the word used for abandoning Islam — as the Arabic-language daily Akhbar al-Youm had claimed.
The different statements could not be immediately reconciled, but local Christians expressed concern about the situation, saying it could lead to a new crackdown on the country’s tiny Christian community of some 22,000 people.
“There’s a lot of confusion and discussion in Morocco right now about the fatwa,” said a pastor near the city of Marrakech in a statement distributed by advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC). “We fear that if the fatwa is approved, the government will use it to harass us and even arrest us during our meetings,” the church leader added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The [Islamic] fundamentalists will have an excuse to harm us,” the pastor reportedly said.
ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, Aidan Clay, agrees that the fatwa adds to concern about the position of Christians in the Islamic nation of over 32 million people. ”
“The Moroccan government lost credibility among international human rights groups in 2010 when it deported more than 70 foreign Christian aid workers on charges of proselytizing without granting due process rights to a hearing,” he said.
In total, Morocco expelled as many as 100 foreign Christians since 2010, because they allegedly tried to convert Muslims.
Islamic extremism is the main “source of persecution” in Morocco, said Christian advocacy group Open Doors.
Among those already detained is 49-year-old Jamaa Ait Bakrim, an outspoken Christian convert, who was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in 2005 for “proselytizing” and destroying “the goods of others” after burning two defunct utility poles located in front of his own business in south Morocco.
Open Doors quoted activists and Moroccan Christians as saying that the severity of his sentence for a “misdemeanor” underscores Morocco’s attempt him behind bars as long as possible “because he persistently spoke about his faith.”
While apostasy is illegal in many Muslim countries and punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, Moroccan law so far does not directly prohibit it, according to experts familiar with the legislation.
Article 220 of Morocco’s Penal Code does state, however, that “attempting to undermine the faith of a Muslim or convert him to another religion” is punishable with six months to three years in prison. It was not immediately clear when and if the reported fatwa issuing a death sentence will become part of new legislation.
“We urge the Moroccan government to safeguard the religious freedoms of all Moroccans and to reject edicts that would constitute a breach of the country’s international human rights obligations,” Clay said.
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Christians living in northern Nigeria continue to be targeted by Boko Haram for extreme acts of violence. Last week, Christians riding a bus were pulled over and asked about their religious convictions at gunpoint. When these Christians confessed their faith , they were executed on the spot. Violence like this has been perpetrated against Christians for the past three years.
Further incidences of targeted violence have taken place against Christians in the northern Nigerian state of Borno. On April 20th, gunmen pulled over a bus near Maiduguri, demanding the passengers aboard to declare their faith. The gunmen then proceeded to kill six people who had confessed they were Christians.
It was also reported that militants have recently embarked upon an “Islamization campaign” in Gwoza (also located in Borno state). In this situation, residents were threatened by gunmen who were going from door to door, demanding that the family members within each household profess allegiance to Islam at gunpoint.
On April 19th, just prior to these violent acts of persecution, intensive warfare was raging in the far north of Borno between the military and the Islamist militant group, Boko Haram. At least 185 people have died and up to 2,000 homes were destroyed due to this violent conflict which took place in the remote town of Baga (near the Chad border). The aim of Boko Haram is to create an Islamic state across northern Nigeria. For an overview of the country’s situation, previous prayer alerts, and on-location video clips, go to the Nigeria Country Report.
Hundreds of thousands of Christians have been displaced by the fighting or left the country in the past two years. Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III Laham recently said more than 1,000 Christians had been killed, “entire villages… cleared of their Christian inhabitants”, and more than 40 churches and Christian centers damaged or destroyed.
This has led some Christians to express support for President Assad, particularly as sectarian violence has increased and jihadist militant groups calling for an Islamic state in Syria have grown in strength.
Some Christian communities have been drawn into the conflict
Many fear that if President Assad is overthrown, Christians will be targeted and communities destroyed as many were in Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003. They have also been concerned by the coming to power of Islamist parties in post-revolutionary Egypt and Tunisia.
Some communities are reported to have taken up offers from the government to arm groups of youths, called “popular committees”, to defend themselves from rebel attacks.
Other Christians are believed to be assisting the opposition. Many are active in political groups such as the Syrian National Council, whose leader, the veteran communist George Sabra, is from a Christian family. The Local Co-ordination Committees, an opposition activist network, also includes Christians.
Christian opposition activists have accused the government of stoking sectarian tensions, including by using Alawite-led security forces and Alawite militiamen to target Sunni civilians, and overplaying the threat posed by the rebels to Syria’s minorities.
‘Die or leave’
On 22 April 2013, two senior clerics became caught up in the war.
Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim, head of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Aleppo, and Bishop Boulos Yaziji, head of the Greek Orthodox Church there, were kidnapped by gunmen while they were on what was described as a humanitarian trip.
Bishop Ibrahim had spoken to BBC Arabic only a few days beforehand, saying both sides were to blame for the conflict and that Christians were not being targeted.
“There is no persecution of Christians and there is no single plan to kill Christians. Everyone respects Christians,” he insisted. “Bullets are random and not targeting the Christians because they are Christians.”
But on 15 April, Patriarch Gregorios had warned in a statement sent to a Catholic charity: “There is no safe place left in Syria.”
“The whole of Syria has become a battlefield… Every aspect of democracy, human rights, freedom, secularism and citizenship is lost from view and no-one cares.
“The future of Christians in Syria is threatened not by Muslims but by… chaos… and the infiltration of uncontrollable fanatical, fundamentalist groups,” he added.
Patriarch Gregorios said the threat to Christianity in Syria had wider implications for the religion’s future in the Middle East because the country had for decades provided a refuge for Christians from neighboring Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere.
His comments echoed those by another Damascus-based prelate, Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar, who said Christians in Syria had to “choose between two bitter chalices: to die or leave”.
Syria’s Christian community is one of the oldest in the world, going back two millennial.
Near the northern city of Aleppo is the Church of St Simeon Stylites, who spent decades on top of a stone pillar to demonstrate his faith, while in the mountains west of Homs is the castle of Krak des Chevaliers, which was a fortress for the Knights Hospitaller during the Crusades.
Christians are believed to have constituted about 30% of the Syrian population as recently as the 1920s. Today, they make up about 10% of Syria’s 22 million people.
The future of Christians in Syria is threatened not by Muslims but by chaos”
Sunni Muslims meanwhile make up some 70% of the population and about 12% are Alawites, members of a heterodox Shia sect to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs. There are smaller numbers of Druze and other sects.
The vast majority of Syrian Christians belong to Eastern denominations. The largest and oldest is the Greek Orthodox Church, which has about 503,000 members. The Armenian Apostolic Church has between 112,000 and 160,000, and the Syrian Orthodox Church about 89,000.
Among the Uniate Churches, which are in communion with Rome, the largest is the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, with between 118,000 and 240,000 members. It is followed by the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch, which has between 28,000 and 60,000, the Armenian Catholic Church, the Syrian Catholic Church and the Chaldean Catholic Church.
The Assyrian Church of the East has about 46,000 followers.
Despite their minority status, Christians have long been among Syria’s elite. They have been represented in many of the political groups which have vied for control of the country, including the secular Arab nationalist and socialist movements which eventually came to the fore.
Christians have been accused of backing President Bashar al-Assad, but most have not taken sides.
The founder of the Baath Party, which has ruled Syria since 1963, was a Christian, and Christians rose to senior positions in the party, government and security forces, although they are generally not seen to have any real power compared with their Alawite and Sunni colleagues.
Although, like other Syrians, they had very limited civil and political freedoms, Christians are believed to have valued the rights and protection accorded to minorities by Hafez al-Assad, who was president between 1971 and 2000, and by his son Bashar.
A large proportion of the country’s Sunnis also tolerated or supported the Assads, whom they saw as guarantors of stability.
When pro-democracy protests erupted in Syria in March 2011, many Christians were cautious and tried to avoid taking sides. However, as the government crackdown intensified and opposition supporters took up arms, they were gradually drawn into the conflict.
Islamist extremists want Iraq to be a “Muslim only” country. As a result, Christians in Iraq remain continuous targets of violent attacks.
Each month Open Doors field workers receive sad phone calls and emails of Christian acquaintances who report attacks against the Christians near them. While most of them are part of the general violence, such as bomb attacks and mortar fire which intensified during provincial elections last Saturday, a part of the violence can be labelled as specifically targeted against Christians.
“If these attacks take place in a Christian neighbourhood or a Christian village, you can assume they are targeted, especially against the Christian population of the neighbourhoods and villages,” said an Open Doors field worker.
“Since the fall of Saddam Hussein 10 years ago, an estimated 1,000 Christians have been killed, a relatively high number compared with percentages killed from other groups in Iraqi society.”
A Christian in Mosul was the target of two attacks in one week last March. After the first bomb exploded in his house on a Wednesday, a second one was thrown over his fence on Sunday. The Christian saw two young men running away. The second bomb, wrapped in a black bag and a women’s t-shirt, was deactivated by a military engineering team.
In early April, Adbuljabar Khidher Toza, another Christian from Mosul, wasn’t so fortunate. Armed men shot him to death in front of his house.
All these targeted attacks serve only one purpose, shares the field worker:
“We received documents and threats stating that the aim of the Islamist Insurgents is to make Iraq a ‘Muslim only’ country; they want the Christians out.”
Louis Raphael Sako, the newly-elected Chaldean Catholic patriarch of Iraq and Syria, says he is afraid of what Islamist rule would mean for Christians. “People are afraid of a kind of Islamic state as it was in the seventh century where Christians would be considered second-class citizens,” he said.
According to Open Doors’ 2013 World Watch List materials, there are only an estimated 330,000 to 350,000 Christians left in Iraq. There were more than 1.2 million Christians in the early 1990s. Many of the believers have fled to Jordan and Lebanon or to the northern Kurdish region of Iraq. Iraq is ranked No 4 on the list of the worst persecutors around the globe.
Sako urges Christians to stay: “We must stay. This is our history. This is our cultural heritage. When we leave, everything will leave with us.”
Jerry Dykstra, a spokesman for Open Doors USA, adds that “since the start of war in Iraq 10 years ago, the situation for Christians has deteriorated each year”.
“Christians have faced church attacks, kidnappings, threats and death for their faith,” he said.
“They have no faith in the government providing security for them. Many feel they are alone and forgotten.”
Iraqi pastor Abdi Ali Hamzah, also known as Pastor Jamal, has finally been released from prison after 21 months and will get the medical attention that he needs following what one ministry leader is calling an unprecedented move.
“It is by God’s grace that this has been done,” said Dr. Terry Law, founder and president of World Compassion Terry Law Ministries, who had campaigned for the pastor’s release. “I don’t think there is precedent for a former Muslim, converted to Christianity and proselytizing other Muslims, now convicted of a crime in an Iraqi court, to be released by ‘private amnesty.’ The odds against it were huge!”
Hamzah was arrested in July 2011 and initially sentenced to five years in Iraqi prison, with authorities trying to portray him as a spy for Iran. World Compassion has argued, however, that the charges were false, and that his capture had more to do with his evangelism – the pastor has helped Dr. Law distribute $100,000-worth of food to people in Iraq, risking his life as he went undercover to refugee villages.
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The Iraqi pastor has been suffering from serious medical conditions, including a tumor, and World Compassion warned that he needed immediate help if he was to live.
“He has been in prison for 18 months now, and before that we sent him to Jordan to have some gammanite surgery done,” Jason Law, vice president of Operations and the son of Terry Law, told CP in a previous interview. “He had a tumor in his brain, and they believe that it is coming back. From our understanding, he is now in a prison hospital but is not really receiving the treatment and care that he needs.”
Dr. Law traveled alongside his associate, Joel Vesanen, to Erbil, Kurdistan, in February to appeal for Hamzah’s release, carrying a letter from United States Senator James M. Inhofe (Oklahoma) petitioning for his cause. After a positive meeting with Minister of Foreign Relations Falah Mustafa Bakir and other top level government officials, Law was given hope that the pastor could be released based on humanitarian grounds and given private amnesty.
“It was through the gracious and courageous act by President Masoud Barzani from the Kurdish Regional Government, that Pastor Jamal was granted private amnesty and released from prison,” World Compassion reported. “It should also be recognized Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and Minister of the Interior Karim Sinjari played critical roles in helping encourage his release.”
Christians have been encouraged by Barzani’s recent pledge to believers in the Kurdish region of Iraq that they can be assured of protection.
“We will protect the right of any Kurd to choose another faith,” the prime minister has said, which according to World Compassion is “truly unprecedented” in the Middle East region.
The Christian ministry noted that the pastor has now left Iraq and is safe with his family at a refuge, where he is receiving the trauma counseling and medical attention that he needs.