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East Africa facing rise in Christian persecution, says charity

by Desmond Busteed

Release International has identified Kenya and Tanzania as areas of increasing concern. It says Christians there are experiencing a new and brutal wave of violence, as Islamists who have gained ground in Somalia extend their reach and threaten to destabilise surrounding nations.
In November, militants ambushed a bus in northern Kenya. They separated out the Muslims and executed up to 28 Christians. Gunmen have also killed scores in attacks on predominantly Christian towns in Kenya and on a church near Mombasa.
Christians are in the majority in Kenya. And they make up almost a third of the population of neighbouring Tanzania, where they are coming under increasing attack, especially in the archipelago of Zanzibar.
In Nigeria, violence continued unabated in 2014. Boko Haram militants destroyed 185 churches in just two states in the northeast, according to the International Business Times. Some estimates suggest Boko Haram killed almost 800 people in November alone.
The Islamist group is expected to step up the violence ahead of the Nigerian presidential elections, which are slated for February 2015.

"Islamist groups are gaining ground in Africa," warns Chief Executive Paul Robinson. "There is evidence to suggest they will become a growing force for instability in East Africa in 2015.
"The greatest risk to freedom of faith in the New Year comes from Islamic groups determined to establish their brutal version of Sharia law - whatever the cost to human life."
Christians continues to be persecuted in a number of distinct contexts: from extremists such as Islamic State in Iraq, intent on conversion or religious cleansing; to authoritarian governments such as North Korea attempting to preserve their power, and militant religious and nationalist movements, such as that emerging in India.
"One of the worst places to be a Christian in 2014 was Iraq,' says Paul Robinson of Release. 'Faced with the stark choice of conversion or beheading, most left everything and fled. Intolerant extremism poses the greatest threat to Christians in 2015."
In Iraq, Christians have faced growing persecution since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Since then, around a millionIraqi Christians have been driven out of their homeland.
More recently, the Islamic State terror group, which has captured vast swathes of Syria and Iraq, has forced tens of thousands of Christians from the north of the country. IS forces are now on the outskirts of the capital Baghdad, where a small Christian presence remains.
To the north, Iraqi Kurdistan has declared itself a safe haven for Christian refugees. 'Kurdistan is probably the only region of the Middle East where the Christian population is growing,' says Paul Robinson. 'Please pray for its protection.'

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