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2008-03-14
Istanbul, Turkey
Ethiopian Muslims Kill Worshiper in Church Attacks
Assaults with machetes nearly behead Christian, leave 23 injured.

by Barbara G. Baker

Eight Muslims wielding razor-sharp machetes and knives broke into two village churches in southern Ethiopia earlier this month and began wounding worshipers, instantly killing one Christian.

Tulu Mosisa of Kale Hiwot church died after a machete blow nearly beheaded him, according to an eyewitness. Another two members of the Kale Hiwot and Birhane Wongel Baptist churches in the remote village of Nensebo Chebi both lost a hand each in the March 2 attacks, and a 5-year-old boy is still hospitalized after his arm was slashed to the bone.

A total of 23 Christians from the two congregations were injured before local militia officers drove off the attackers, who launched what one observer called “a seemingly well-planned,” simultaneous assault midway through Sunday worship services.

Located 400 kilometers (240 miles) south of the capital Addis Ababa, Nensebo Chebi is a remote village in the Bale Zone of Ethiopia’s predominantly Muslim Oromiya state, eight hours by foot from the nearest town.

Without warning, the assailants stormed into the two churches, located a half-hour’s walk apart from each other in the village. Barring all the doors and windows, they began to strike the worshippers with machetes and knives.

Survivors told a visitor to the region that the victims sustained wounds on their hands, necks, foreheads, legs, arms, shoulders and backs.

Every time the attackers struck someone, the Christian survivors said, they shouted “Allah Akbar!” The two Arabic words, meaning “Allah be praised,” are the beginning of the Muslim call to prayer.

“We were praying, and suddenly I heard people shouting ‘Allah Akbar,” said one father whose little son was critically injured in the attack.

He was then shocked to hear a deep cry from his son.

“My wife assumed our boy was dying, so she threw another son in my arms and ran out of the scene,” he said. “She was crying. It was something terrible to see it [happen to] your own child.”

With his arm now in a cast, the boy remains under hospital care.

Policeman Shot ‘by Mistake’

When one Muslim attacker in the Kale Hiwot church swung his machete at Tulu Mosisa, “it almost separated his head and neck,” an eyewitness said. “The machete blade was so sharp and shining. We had nothing in hand to protect ourselves.”

According to one of the injured Christians who spoke with district administrators three days later from his hospital bed in Awasa, 75 miles away, “When we asked why, they responded by machete.”

“I tried to cover my face, but the machete cut my hand,” he continued. “I don’t know what happened then. All of us ran around and shouted.”

Eventually members of the local militia (volunteers armed by the government to handle small incidents in their villages) arrived at the scene and started firing their guns in the air.

“But it didn’t stop them,” said one wounded Christian. Finally, he said, the militia aimed at one of the attackers, and then they fled.

The injured worshippers included a Christian policeman, who finally managed to grab one of the attackers from behind – but was then hit by gunfire.

“The policeman was almost [about] to take over the man, but he was hit by a gunshot behind his ribs,” an eyewitness told the visitor. Later the militiaman who shot the policeman claimed he had been aiming at the attacker but hit the officer by mistake.

The eyewitness said he did not believe the militia officer’s story, since he then stood by while the attacker regained his machete and slashed the downed policeman on his legs and arms.

“He himself was a Muslim with sympathy [for the attacker],” the Christian eyewitness concluded. “It was another militiaman who stopped them.”

Eight of the most seriously wounded Christians were transferred to a hospital in Awasa, while the policeman was sent for treatment at the Federal Police Referral Hospital in Addis Ababa. After the others received treatment for their injuries at a clinic in Werka, the nearest town eight hours’ walk away, they were sent back home.

None of the attackers have been identified by federal police authorities, although they reportedly have told church leaders that more than 21 suspects have been arrested in connection with the attacks.

In addition, three members of the district administration who allegedly cooperated with the assailants were reportedly taken into police custody.

According to a visitor to the region last week, the congregations of the two Nensebo churches are made up mostly of Protestant converts from Orthodoxy, “with an increasing number of converts from Islam.”

But one local church member declared, “There was no sign of Muslims preparing to attack us.”

Muslims constitute 45 percent of the population in Ethiopia, where a traditionally tolerant version of Islam has been practiced.

But according to the 2007 International Religious Freedom report from the U.S. State Department, the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council continues to express concern over “increasing external Wahhabi influence” on Ethiopia’s Muslims by “Saudi-funded entities and non-governmental organizations.”

Nensebo Chebi is situated amid the predominantly Muslim population of the Oromo tribe, near the 12th century Islamic shrine of the Dire Sheikh Hussein mosque venerated by Ethiopia’s traditional Muslims.

An account in Amharic on the Nensebo attack was reported in the current affairs weekly newspaper Addis Neger, an independent political publication.

Source: Compass Direct News, Santa Ana, California/USA and Istanbul/Turkey
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