By Worthy News Africa Service with Worthy News’ Stefan J, Bos

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA (Worthy News)

03/10/09

Ethiopian police was still searching for key suspects Friday, October 2, after hundreds of angry Muslims reportedly attacked evangelical churches in the western Arsi zone of Ethiopia, injuring at least three Christians.

U.S.-based advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC) told Worthy News that some 300 people “ransacked Mulu Wongel Evangelical Church and set fire to church property” in the town of Senbete on September 11, after Christians allegedly desecrated the Koran, seen as holy book by Muslims.

Muslims also attacked the nearby home of a church leader, identified as Evangelist Gizachew, destroying his clothes, chairs, tables, sofa, bicycles, and television, ICC said.

The mob then reportedly marched to Kale Hiwot Evangelical Church where they attacked Christians who were celebrating the Ethiopian New Year. The country follows its own Orthodox calendar that is almost eight years behind that of the West.

STONES AND STICKS

“They attacked the Christians with stones and sticks, broke the left arm of Aberash Terefe, and seriously wounded Tefera Bati and Desaleghn Eyasu,” ICC said. “The three were taken to the nearby Kuyera hospital and discharged after treatment. The Muslims pillaged the church’s property and caused 52,000 birr ($4,127) worth of damage.”

Christians said the violence erupted after Muslim leaders called for attacks alleging that Mulatu Eyasu, a second year Bible school student, and Berhanu Abose, a farmer, desecrated the Koran. Christians have denied wrongdoing.

“Mulatu Eyasu and Berhanu Abose are under police custody on false allegations of desecrating the Koran,” ICC added .

Police was apparently still searching Friday, October 2 for suspects Sheik Hussein Mohammed, Imam Ahmed and a third unidentified Muslim leader for instigating what ICC described as “jihad attacks.”

Authorities reportedly detained six other suspects for their alleged involvement in the violence.

PROMINENT BUSINESS OWNERS

ICC said prominent Muslim business owners in the nearby town of Shashamane had “encouraged” the mob “to enforce jihad in order to eliminate Christians from the area.”

Muslims are the majority in the small town of Senbete and ICC said Muslim leaders are “incensed” by several Muslim conversion to Christianity. “Some radicals are threatening to carry out further attacks against Christians.”

Muslims comprise some 34 percent of Ethiopia’s population and Christians make up nearly 63 percent.

However in recent years there has been an increase in “the radicalization of Muslims in Ethiopia” mainly due to the influence of Wahhabi Islam, ICC said.

“Wahhabi Islam, which is sponsored and spread by Saudi Arabia, teaches intolerance and violence against Christians and other non-Wahhabis. Christians living in Muslim majority regions of the country have been victims of violent attacks by Wahhabi and other radical Islamic groups.”

ICC URGING INVESTIGATION

ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa and the Middle East, Jonathan Racho, said his organization has condemned the violence and urged authorities to” seriously investigate the violence and bring all the perpetrators and instigators to justice.”

He said ICC has asked Ethiopian officials to investigate the involvement of three influential business people, identified as Begelo, Lelisso Atota and Bati Wetiye in “masterminding” the violence. “We urge Ethiopian officials to ensure the safety of Christians in Senbete and protect them from further violence.”