UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
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Indian Christians seek better security at churches

Call comes after Kerala police arrest man accused of having links to Islamic State

ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi

ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi

Updated: May 02, 2019 04:44 AM GMT
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Indian Christians seek better security at churches

The aftermath of the suicide bombing of St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo in Sri Lanka that killed more than 100 people on Easter Sunday. (ucanews.com photo)

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Christian leaders in India have intensified their call to make churches safer after police arrested a man and accused him of having links to Islamic terror groups and planning to attack religious places in Kerala state.

Police arrested 28-year-old Riyaz Aboobacker, alias Abu Dujanan, at his house in Kerala on April 29 as part of their investigation into the so-called Islamic State (IS) terrorist network 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.

The Indian government should pre-empt any attacks planned against minorities including Christians in the country, said A.J. Philip, a Christian political observer based in New Delhi.

“We simply cannot shut our churches. We cannot stop a person who comes with a bomb to blow us all up. The government must prioritize to nip these evils in the bud,” said Philip.

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 IS in Syria.

The transnational terror group was nearly decimated after a U.S.-led coalition in September 2014 began to fight them in their strongholds in Iraq and Syria. But since 2016, IS has claimed responsibility for several bomb attacks around the world, including spots in Asia where Western tourists gather.

Most 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.

Philip said places of worship cannot be closed to worshipers and the government should ensure safety at religious sites and thwart any nefarious attempts aimed at targeting innocent devotees.

The IS threat in India, 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 organizational 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 form 18 percent of the state 33 million people, 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, 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 Christian leader Joseph Dias, who is based in Mumbai.

“The real threat to Christians in India doesn’t come from IS but from Islamic fundamentalism. Radicalization 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.”

Indian police in the past two years have arrested 112 people with suspected links to IS terrorists, government figures show.

Michael Williams, an educationalist in New Delhi, told ucanews.com that Muslims and Christians must stand together to defeat divisive elements and foil their plans.

“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,” said Williams.

In India, Sri Lanka and Nepal, Muslims and Christians form tiny minorities in dominant Hindu or Buddhist populations.

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.”

David said Hindu communalism is more dangerous for Indian Christians than Islamic threats. “Hindu communalism boosts Islamic extremism in the country and radicalizes youth.”

Christian leaders say that since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 after his pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won national elections, Christians and Muslims have been targeted by Hindu groups who took the poll mandate as a license to push for their goal of making India a Hindu-only nation.

According to various independent surveys, there were 219 incidents of targeted violence reported against the Christian community by Hindu fanatic groups in India in 2018.

Hindus account for 960 million or 80 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people. The country has 172 million Muslims, forming 14.2 percent of the population. Christians number around 28 million, constituting 2.3 percent.

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