Monday, February 19, 2018

RLPB 443. Dagestan (Russia): terror strikes as tension boils

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 443 | Tue 20 Feb 2018

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DAGESTAN (RUSSIA): TERROR STRIKES AS TENSION BOILS
by Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge
On Sunday evening 18 February local Christians gathered in Kizlyar's Russian Orthodox (RO) church to usher in the Eastern Orthodox Lent. The Sunday mass was the culmination of a week-long traditional pre-Lenten festival known as Maslenitsa. Then, terror struck. Father Pavel explains: 'We had finished the mass and were beginning to leave the church. A bearded man ran towards the church shouting "Allahu Akbar" (Allah is greatest) and killed four people. He was carrying a rifle and a knife.' To prevent the gunman getting inside, church members shut and barricaded the door. Police then shot the gunman dead. A fifth woman later died in hospital. A further four people were wounded, one seriously, including at least two policemen and one or two more Christian women. The gunman has been identified as Khalil Khalilov (22), a local Muslim from the Tarumovsky District of Dagestan.

Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility, identifying the gunman by his alleged 'nom de guerre', Khalil al-Dagestani and describing him as a 'soldier of the caliphate'. In a video subsequently released by pro-IS media, a man alleged to be the gunman appears dressed in what seems to be the same black vest and camouflage pants, his rifle and knife on display. Sitting cross-legged beside an IS flag, the masked man swears an oath of allegiance to IS.

Doctors examine wounded patients
in a hospital in Kizlyar (EPA)
Kizlyar (where the attack occurred) is located in Dagestan, a majority-Muslim republic in the volatile North Caucasus region of southern Russia. Whilst Dagestan is 90 percent Muslim, Kizlyar -- a town of some 50,000 people, located 170km northwest of Dagestan's capital, Makhachkala, near the border with Chechnya -- is around 40 percent ethnic Russian. In recent years multitudes of Chechnya's and Dagestan's unemployed and increasingly radicalised Muslim youths have travelled to Mesopotamia (Syria-Iraq) to engage in jihad. Known collectively as 'Chechens', jihadists from the North Caucasus are known for being especially fierce and highly skilled, many having been trained by former-Soviet military personnel. According to a recent study, some 3400 'Chechens' have fought with jihadist groups in Mesopotamia; of these, an estimated 400 have returned.

Women comfort each other
following the deadly attack. 
(RU-RTR Russian Television
via Associated Press)
The North Caucasus region has long been a hive of jihadist activity. For decades, Russia has sought to pacify the region by delegating power to local authorities who are loyal to Moscow. This strategy has largely worked in Chechnya where, despite human rights abuses, overall security has improved and economic development has advanced. However, the strategy has failed in more ethnically diverse Dagestan where clan rivalries predominate over nationalism. In an effort to 'decriminalise' the republic and rein in its debt (caused mostly by embezzlement and fraud) Moscow has intervened, replacing clan heads with outsiders. Naturally, Dagestanis are split, with some protesting the intervention and others living in hope that it will ultimately work to improve security and facilitate development. One analyst comments that, since 5 February, Dagestan has come to resemble 'a disturbed anthill'. Doubtless purged officials, criminals and all who had profited from systemic corruption will furiously resist the intervention and be bent on revenge.

As journalist Anton Orech notes, lawless, out-of-control Dagestan has long been home to Russia's 'main Islamist cells' and the source of 'the biggest stream of people to ISIS'.  This is unsurprising, for it is well known that jihadist groups thrive in corrupt and lawless regions. Therefore, we should expect that jihadists too will furiously resist Moscow's intervention and seek to undermine it. It is quite possible that the terror attack on the RO church in Kizlyar was as much an attack on Moscow as on the Christian presence in Dagestan. It may also have been an attempt to trigger religious conflict around which IS could rally trans-national jihadists. Tensions are boiling and terror attacks may well escalate in direct proportion to Moscow's success at cleaning up the republic. 


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* the new administration installed in Dagestan; in particular for:
  • Vladimir Vasilyev (68), the eminently qualified ethnic-Kazakh native Muscovite appointed by President Putin on 3 October to serve as Acting Head of Dagestan until elections can be held.
  • Artem Vasilyev (39), the young former Minister of Economy of Tatarstan appointed by Vasilyev on 7 Feb to serve as Prime Minister over Dagestan's new government.  
May God be pleased to use the new administration to bring peace, justice, development and security to Dagestan so that the Gospel will advance and God will be glorified (see 1 Timothy 2:1-4); may resistance be minimal and may the way of the wicked come to ruin (Psalm 146:9).

* the Church in Dagestan -- Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant -- comprised of ethnic Russians and Muslim converts; in particular that:
  • the Lord will pour out his grace on the church in Kizlyar, to bring comfort and peace to those who grieve and are fearful;
  • Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, will deploy his angelic forces to shield priests and churches (which are exposed) as well as lay-persons and house-churches throughout Dagestan as tensions escalate around them. 
'You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.' (Psalm 3:3 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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TERROR STRIKES AS TENSION BOILS IN DAGESTAN (RUSSIA)

On Sunday 18 February a local Islamic jihadi attacked Christians as they emerged from Kizlyar's Russian Orthodox church. They had been ushering in Lent when the gunman approached, cried 'Allahu Akbar' and opened fire. To keep the gunman outside, believers barricaded the church door while police shot the gunman dead. Four Christian women were killed instantly; a fifth died later in hospital. Four others were wounded. Islamic State claimed responsibility. More than 3400 Chechen and Dagestani Muslims have travelled to Syria for jihad; an estimated 400 have returned. The attack comes in the wake of an intervention from Moscow aimed at ending clan-based systemic corruption. One analyst likened Dagestan to 'a disturbed anthill'. A new administration has been installed; tensions are boiling. Please pray for Dagestan and its Church.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate.

She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored 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).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

RLPB 442. Nigeria: Government deploys troops to Middle Belt

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 442 | Wed 14 Feb 2018

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


NIGERIA: GOVERNMENT DEPLOYS TROOPS TO MIDDLE BELT
by Elizabeth Kendal

Church elder James Nengwe (60),
killed in Zanwra, Plateau State,
on 24 January 2018, by
Muslim Fulani herdsmen.
(Morning Star News)
On 30 January Amnesty International (AI) reported that, 'In 2017, clashes between nomadic herdsmen and local farmers resulted in at least 549 deaths and thousands displaced' across fourteen states, and that 168 were killed in the Middle Belt states of Adamawa, Benue, Taraba, Ondo and Kaduna in January 2018 alone.

Furthermore, Morning Star News reports that between 22 and 25 January eight Christians were killed in Plateau State in four ambushes, while 50 houses belonging to Christians were destroyed in two separate attacks 'carried out by Muslim Fulani herdsmen aided by terrorists from Islamic extremist groups'. Director of AI Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, laments: 'Hundreds of people lost their lives last year, and the government is still not doing enough to protect communities from these violent clashes. Worse, the killers are getting away with murder.'

Mass funeral and burial, Makurdi,
Benue State, 11 January 2018.
Images and video: Reuters
As AI notes, the violence has escalated since several states moved to rein in the Fulani herdsmen by enacting anti-grazing laws. Benue State enacted its Anti-Open Grazing Law on 1 November [see RLPB 431 Fulani used as proxies for Islamic jihad (8 Nov 2017)]. On 11 January thousands attended a state funeral and mass burial in Makurdi, the state capital, for 73 mostly Christian victims of the latest clash which the State Emergency Agency estimates has displaced a further 40,000 local residents. Benue State Governor Sam Ortom told CNN: 'They [the Fulani herdsmen] had threatened to wipe out the whole state if we did not repeal the law and allow their cattle to graze wherever they like.' Despite the huge toll, Benue State information commissioner, Lawrence Onoja, defended the Anti-Open Grazing Law, telling the BBC, 'Our economy in Benue State depends on agriculture. Take that away and we have a serious problem.'

Writing for QUARTZ Africa, Mark Amaza observes that, in the absence of government action, two trends are emerging: (1) ethnic groups are forming their own militias and launching both reprisal and pre-emptive attacks; (2) states are creating or backing extra-legal paramilitaries to fight the various militias. With Nigeria awash with illicit weapons and increasingly saturated with hate-speech, the propensity for spiralling violence is very real. The Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) South West region, Archbishop Magnus Atilade, describes the current situation as 'the perfect recipe for another civil war'.

Despite this being a law and order issue and police matter, the Nigerian government announced on 7 February that it will deploy troops to Middle Belt. Exercise Ayem Akpatuma (Operation Cat Race) will commence on 15 February and last until 31 March. Whilst many welcome the move, which Jane's Intelligence maintains will 'reduce civil war risks', many are doubtless nervous. In a press conference in Abuja on Tuesday 16 January, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) questioned the neutrality of the Buhari government and its Security Forces noting that on 17 January 2017 'the Nigerian Air Force, "accidentally", in broad daylight, bombed a Christian Internally Displaced Persons camp and killed over 200 Christian refugees in Rann, Kala-Balge Local Government Area in Borno State'. In another case, on 4 December 2017, the Nigerian Air Force sent an Alpha Jet and an EC 135 attack Helicopter to Numan, Adamawa State, allegedly to fire 'warning shots' at Islamist militia attacking Christians there. An investigation by AI revealed that, while 51 Christians died of gunshot and machete wounds, a further 35 died as a direct result of the airstrikes which destroyed some 3000 homes across five villages.

getty image from the 11 January
mass burial in Makurdi, Benue.
More images: Benue News
Most shockingly, on 25 January 2018, Nigeria's Minister of Defence, Col. Mansur Mohammed Dan-Ali (rtd), justified the recent killings in Benue State by blaming the victims and attributing the violence to the unwillingness of the affected, mostly Christian, farming communities to accommodate their 'fellow Nigerians'. 'Communities and other people must learn how to accept foreigners within their enclave, finish!' he said. Officials in Benue, including members of Dan-Ali's own party, are calling for him to be sacked. Until Christians can trust their government and their military, they have every reason to feel nervous about a massive deployment of troops into their region.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* grace his Church with wisdom to navigate these times, and that Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd will guide all pastors and all Christian leaders as they seek to lead God's people and their nation through dangerous and difficult days. (Psalm 23)

* comfort, encourage and protect his precious, faithful Church, for the Church is Nigeria's hope. We pray in particular for all pastors, evangelists and peacemakers, along with all churches and Bible colleges, for they are especially exposed and vulnerable; may the Lord be their shield even as conflict rages around them. (Psalm 46)

* intervene in Nigeria, to raise up godly political and civic leaders at every level; may they be committed to justice and righteousness and equipped with wisdom and strength to lead the nation into healing. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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NIGERIA DEPLOYS TROOPS TO MIDDLE BELT

Religious and political leaders are warning that Nigeria risks spiralling into civil war. The unrest stems from the central government's unwillingness to prevent nomadic Fulani cattle herders (northern Muslims) from grazing their herds on crops cultivated by indigenous Middle Belt farmers (mostly Christians). According to Amnesty International, 549, mostly Christians, were killed and thousands displaced across fourteen states during 2017 and 168 were killed in four Middle Belt states in January 2018. Despite this being a law and order issue and police matter, the government has opted to deploy troops to the Middle Belt from 15 Feb to 31 March. With the neutrality of the Nigerian military in question, and the Minister of Defence openly blaming the violence on the victims, Christians have grounds to be nervous. Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored 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).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com