A Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin by Elizabeth Kendal, Special to ASSIST News Service
CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS – December 14, 2016) — On Sunday, December 11th, the Egyptian Christians worshipping inside Cairo’s St Peter and St Paul church (El-Botroseya) were doubtless aware of the elevated terror threat. After all, Christians have been targeted over the Christmas-New Year period before.
On January 7, 2010, seven Coptic youths and one Muslim guard were gunned down as they emerged from a Christmas Eve midnight mass in Nag Hammadi. Then, in the early hours of 1 January 1, 2011, 23 mostly Coptic Christians were killed when an Islamic suicide terrorist detonated his explosive-laden car outside a Coptic church in Alexandria during a midnight service to welcome in the New Year. Consequently, the worshippers inside El-Botroseya last Sunday — men seated on the left, women and children seated on the right (as is Coptic tradition) — were doubtless grateful for the armed guards stationed at the door.
Part of a large Coptic Church compound, El-Botroseya is located adjacent to St Mark’s Coptic Cathedral, the most significant Cathedral in the Coptic Church, the Seat of the Coptic Orthodox Pope. Inside El-Botroseya the believers were celebrating Advent — a time when Christians look forward to the Nativity of Jesus. As it happened, it was also ‘Mawlid’, the day when Muslims celebrate the birth of Muhammad.
As the service drew to a close, a man reportedly entered the church and walked in amongst the women and children where he detonated an explosive vest containing 12kg of TNT. In addition to the bomber, 24 worshippers were killed — mostly women and children — making it the most deadly attack on Egyptian Christians in recent years. A further 49 were wounded. Instead of guarding the entrance, the security guards were reportedly sitting in their car.
The next day (Monday) Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi named Mahmoud Shafik Mohamed Mostafa (22), also known as Abu Dajjana al-Kanani, as the bomber. Three other men and one woman have been arrested over the attack. Doubtless embarrassed by the security lapse, President Al-Sisi rushed to exploit the funeral for photo opportunities. While Church and State officials were given passes to attend the State funeral, local Copts — including the relatives of the slain — were kept at a distance. It might have made good television propaganda, but Copts told Morning Star News (http://morningstarnews.org/) that the funeral left them hurt and angry.
On Wednesday, December 14th, Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the bombing, vowing to “continue its war against apostates”, [by which it must mean “infidels”, as it is doubtful that any of the victims were apostates (i.e. one who has abandoned their religion)]. Islamic State (IS), which is primarily active in Sinai, is the inspiration behind Muslim Brotherhood-linked militant groups that have committed several attacks and attempted assassinations in Cairo over recent weeks. The threat facing Coptic Christians this Advent, New Year and Orthodox Christmas (6-7 January) is extreme.
Christmas-New Year Terror Threat
Egyptian Christians will not be the only believers facing an elevated terror threat this Christmas-New Year period. The risk will be elevated right across the Middle East, but nowhere more so than in Syria, where jihadist groups that are losing territory will be reverting to an angry terrorist insurgency. The liberation of eastern Aleppo might be all but over, but with tens of thousands flooding into western Aleppo, the possibility that jihadists have infiltrated the masses means the terror threat facing western Aleppo must be regarded as extreme. Furthermore, with IS once again in control of the central oasis of Palmyra, the terror threat to Damascus, along with all the Assyrian villages located between Palmyra and Damascus, must be regarded as extreme.
Likewise in Pakistan, where the Taliban is ascendant and doubtless keen to make a statement before winter sets in and fighting dies down. In Nigeria, where Boko Haram (now known as “Islamic State West Africa Province”) might also want to make a statement over Christmas, the terror threat must be regarded as extreme. Other high risk zones include Kenya (which is threatened by al-Shabaab), Indonesia (where anti-Christian Islamic zeal is boiling) and possibly even EUROPE, where popular resistance to mass Muslim immigration is gaining momentum.
Please Pray Specifically That:
* “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction,” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4a ESV) will infuse by his Holy Spirit deep spiritual comfort into those now grieving the loss of loved ones so cruelly slaughtered in their place of worship.
* the LORD of Hosts (the commander of heaven’s angelic armies) will shield and protect his people (Psalm 17:8-9) and bring the way of the wicked to ruin (Psalm 146:9).
Photo captions: 1) Scene of devastation inside the church after the deadly bombing. 2) Relatives of victims mourn their tragic losses. (Photo: Mohamed Hussam/European Pressphoto Agency). 3) Coffins are taken into ambulances after a funeral service for victims of the Sunday cathedral bombing. 4) Coffins inside the church. 5) Elizabeth Kendal.
About the writer: Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She began working with the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC) in July 1999, serving as Principal Researcher and Writer from January 2002 until April 2009 when she resigned in order to work independently. Elizabeth is an Adjunct Research Fellow in the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at the Melbourne School of Theology, and the Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF). In December 2014, Wittenberg Seminary (Canada) awarded Elizabethan honorary Doctor of Ministry degree. Since July 1999 she has published a weekly religious liberty prayer bulletin to help facilitate strategic intercessory prayer, and well as routine reports containing additional religious liberty news and analysis. She is the author of two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec. 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016). For more information see: www.ElizabethKendal.com.
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