CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 May 2019

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India’s Christians want better security at churches

NEW DELHI (UCAN): Christian leaders in India have intensified their call to make churches safer after police arrested 28-year-old Riyaz Aboobacker, also known as Abu Dujanan, at his house in Kerala on April 29 as part of their investigation into the presence of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group in the southern state, local reports said.
 
According to police, a four-member IS-linked group was planning suicide attacks at tourist destinations and religious places in Kerala similar to the attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday that killed 252 people.
 
A.J. Philip, a New Delhi-based Christian political observer, said that the Indian government should preempt any attacks planned against minorities in the county, including Christians.
 
“We simply cannot shut our churches. We cannot stop a person who comes with a bomb to blow us all up. The government must prioritise to nip these evils in the bud,” he said.
 
IS has claimed responsibility for the Sri Lankan attacks. Its Amaq News Agency said they were in response to the group’s call to attack citizens of the international coalition that fought them in Syria.
 
Most of those killed in Sri Lanka were local Christians, giving rise to the idea that Islamic terrorists are targeting Christians to avenge their anger on the western world, which they associate with Christianity.
 
The threat in Indi, and South Asia in general is real, according to research done in 2018 by the Observer Research Foundation, an independent Indian think tank.
 
 “This does not come from an organisational pattern from the so-called caliphate or (IS leader Abu Bakr) al-Baghdadi himself, but the ecosystem that has been created that allows open-source access to ISIS as a brand, which is a powerful enough tool to make global headlines with the smallest incident, committed even by a petty criminal,” the research stated.
 
For example, churches in Kerala, where Christians comprise 18 per cent of the states 33 million population, overflow on Sundays with worshipers. An explosion in any major church could kill hundreds to gain global attention, observers say.
 
Police say Aboobacker, the man arrested in Kerala, has been in online contact with IS terrorist, Abdul Rashid Abdulla, for a long time and has been following his audio clips instigating others to carry out terror attacks in India. He also has contacted Abdul Khayoom Abu Khalid, who is believed to be in Syria, according to a police statement.
 
The arrest and the police revelations are a shock to Christians all over India, said Mumbai-based Christian leader Joseph Dias.
 
“The real threat to Christians in India doesn’t come from IS but from Islamic fundamentalism. Radicalisation of local Muslim youth could prove calamitous for all, including Muslims,” Dias said.
 
“Indian agencies must swing into action and stop these fundamentalist groups from expanding their wings,” he added.
 
In the past two years, police have arrested 112 people with suspected links to IS terrorists, government figures show.
 
Michael Williams, an educationalist in New Delhi, said, “The IS version of Islam is something new in our region. Traditionally in South Asia, Muslims and Christians have been living as brothers. Muslims are largely peace-loving people, especially in India and therefore this is something absolutely new.” 
 
Patsy David, a senior member of the Alliance Defending Freedom, said the threat of extremism is not for the Christian community alone “but for everybody and for people of all faiths.”
 
Christian leaders say that since the prime minster, Narendra Modi, came to power in 2014, Christians and Muslims have been targeted by extremist Hindu groups pushing to make India a Hindu-only nation.

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