Al­ge­ria Chris­tians on the edge

The Church of England - - FRONT PAGE - By Ge­orge Conger

LAST WEEK’S at­tack by Is­lamic mil­i­tants on a nat­u­ral gas re­fin­ery in the Sa­hara desert un­der­scores the pre­car­i­ous plight of Al­ge­ria’s Chris­tian pop­u­la­tion, church lead­ers in North Africa tell The Church of Eng­land News­pa­per.

Anti-con­ver­sion laws, cou­pled with the af­ter-ef­fects of the civil war be­tween the state and Is­lamist ex­trem­ists that left an es­ti­mated 100,000 dead dur­ing the 1990s, have made the pub­lic pro­fes­sion of the Chris­tian faith dan­ger­ous. But over the past 25 years the rate of con­ver­sions from Is­lam to Chris­tian­ity has grown sharply, es­pe­cially among the Ber­ber peo­ple in the Kabylie re­gion, sources in North African re­por t.

No of­fi­cial statis­tics on the num­ber of Chris­tian con­verts are pub­lished by the state, how­ever the mis­sion­ary St Fran­cis Mag­a­zine in its De­cem­ber 2006 is­sue es­ti­mated the num­bers be­ing any­where from 7,000 to 100,000.

Last week, the “Masked Bri­gade” a mil­i­tant group linked to al-Qaeda founded by Al­ge­rian ter­ror­ist Mok­tar Belmok­tar seized the In Ame­nas re­fin­ery in the Sa­hara desert owned by the state oil com­pany Sona­trach and op­er­ated by BP and Nor way’s Sta­toil. in­formed. “The lack of in­for­ma­tion from all the rel­e­vant sources was very poor. We were kept up to date from friends who worked in the oil and gas in­dus­try and the news.”

The Bishop of Ply­mouth, the Rt Rev John Ford told the BBC Mr McCloud’s re­lease was a “fan­tas­tic piece of news” but “it has come at the cost of so much har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of those who were also held

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Mo­hamed Said stated the mil­i­tants had de­manded the re­lease of jailed com­rades and a ran­som. How­ever, they also planned to “blow up the gas com­plex and kill all the hostages,” he said.

On 19 Jan­uary Al­ge­rian Spe­cial Forces stormed the plant, end­ing the four-day stand-off. The Al­ge­rian state news agency APS re­ported that 685 Al­ge­rian and 107 for­eign work­ers had been freed, while 32 ter­ror­ists and 23 hostages died over the course of the siege. Seven hostages were ex­e­cuted by the mil­i­tants dur­ing the fi­nal as­sault as troops tried to free them.

How­ever, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported the death toll was ex­pected to rise as 25 ad­di­tional bod­ies, many burnt be­yond recog­ni­tion, had been dis­cov­ered by sol­diers search­ing the plant for ex­plo­sives af­ter the bat­tle.

The For­eign Of­fice re­ported that three Bri­tons had been killed in the siege and three more were miss­ing. Twenty-two Bri­tish oil work­ers were rescued and have been flown back to the UK, the for­eign sec­re­tary re­ported.

The fam­ily of a Ply­mouth man, Allen McCloud, told the BBC they were “re­lieved” to learn he was safe, but had harsh words for BP and the government say­ing they had failed to keep the fam­i­lies

and those who also died.” Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron noted “peo­ple will ask ques­tions about the Al­ge­rian re­sponse to th­ese events.”

But in a state­ment to the House of Com­mons, Mr Cameron said: “We need to be ab­so­lutely clear whose fault this is. It is the ter­ror­ists who are re­spon­si­ble for this at­tack and for the loss of life. The ac­tion of th­ese ex­trem­ists can never be jus­ti­fied. We will be res­o­lute in our de­ter­mi­na­tion to fight ter­ror­ism and to stand with the Al­ge­rian Government, who have paid a heavy price over many years fight­ing against a sav­age ter­ror­ist cam­paign.”

Sir Tony Baldry, the sec­ond Church Es­tates Com­mis­sioner noted the at­tack had been well planned. He asked the Prime Min­is­ter, “Does that not em­pha­sise the need for us to work col­lab­o­ra­tively with our friends in Europe, the United States and else­where to share in­tel­li­gence to try to en­sure that such groups have the great­est pos­si­ble dif­fi­culty in ac­cess­ing weaponry and that, as far as is pos­si­ble, they are de­nied ac­cess to the in­ter­na­tional bank­ing sys­tem?

“The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity is quite rightly im­pos­ing sanc­tions on coun­tries such as Iran, but we also need to do ev­ery­thing we can, through the in­tel­li­gence ser­vices and oth­er­wise, to frus­trate such non-state ac­tors in try­ing to per­pe­trate acts of hos­til­ity against us and oth­ers.”

The Prime Min­is­ter said Sir Tony was “ab­so­lutely right”, and that Bri­tish pol­icy was to cre­ate as “lit­tle space as pos­si­ble for ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions” to form, “whether in the bank­ing sys­tem or in the avail­abil­ity of safe havens.”

But while in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion is fo­cused on alQaeda, the daily lives of Al­ge­rian Chris­tians re­main dif­fi­cult. The Angli­can Chap­lain in Al­giers, the Rev Hamdy Doud, told CEN: “We praise God for giv­ing Al­ge­ria a spirit of re­li­gious free­dom and re­spect for the other faith. They help Chris­tians and even exMus­lims to wor­ship freely.

“But on the other hand the work of Chris­tian evan­ge­lism is not al­lowed out­side churches,” he added.

Other sources in the coun­try note that the of­fi­cial tol­er­ance of the Chris­tian re­li­gion has not been trans­lated into tol­er­ance of lo­cal Chris­tians. In 2004, Min­is­ter of Re­li­gious Af­fairs Bouab­del­lah Gh­la­mal­lah de­nounced Chris­tian pros­e­ly­tiz­ing, warn­ing that it could lead to blood­shed. Sev­eral weeks later, in an about-face, he said that pros­e­ly­tiz­ing posed no dan­ger, and that “ev­ery­one is free to con­vert to the re­li­gion he finds right for him,” the MEMRI news ser­vice re­ported.

On 17 April 2006, the daily L’Ex­pres­sion re­ported that dur­ing a visit to the city of Constantine, Pres­i­dent Ab­de­laziz Boute­flika said: “We will not ac­cept our chil­dren be­ing turned away from their re­li­gion to Chris­tian­ity un­der the pre­text of democ­racy,” and that “Al­ge­ri­ans will not ac­cept an­other re­li­gion aside from Is­lam.”

In 2008 Al­ge­ria passed an anti-con­ver­sion law call­ing for heavy fines and two-to-five years im­pris­on­ment for any­one con­victed of urg­ing a Mus­lim to con­vert. The law has been used to jail evan­gel­i­cal pas­tors and to close house churches that have come to the no­tice of the po­lice.

The crack­down has been es­pe­cially harsh in Ke­byle. Num­ber­ing some 6 mil­lion out of Al­ge­ria’s pop­u­la­tion of 32 mil­lion, the Ber­bers are a non-Arab peo­ple and were the orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants of the countr y prior to the Arab in­va­sions of the 7th cen­tury.

Mis­sion­ary ac­tiv­ity by the Ro­man Catholic White Fa­thers dur­ing the French colo­nial pe­riod pro­duced only a hand­ful of con­verts, but fol­low­ing the ex­pul­sion of mis­sion­ar­ies in the early 1970s an un­der­ground Protes­tant church be­gan to take root with some mis­sion groups plac­ing the num­ber of Chris­tians at 100,000.

While there is de­bate over the scope of con­ver­sion to Chris­tian­ity among the Ber­ber peo­ple, the is­sue has sparked con­cern amongst Mus­lim and government lead­ers, and fre­quent news­pa­per com­ment. The Al­ge­rian daily El-Shourouq El-Yawmi has de­nounced Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tions fea­tur­ing the ar­rival of Santa Claus as a sign of the “Chris­tian­iza­tion” of the re­gion and as “the death ar­riv­ing from the West.”

Al­ge­rian spe­cial po­lice unit of­fi­cers se­cure the hos­pi­tal in Ain Ame­nas, Al­ge­ria, Fri­day, Jan. 18, 2013, two days af­ter the start of the ter­ror­ist at­tack at a gas plant.

Allen McCloud

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.