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Compass (01/20/06) – Five young men attacked and threatened to kill a Protestant church leader in Turkey’s fourth largest city after Sunday worship services January 8.

Kamil Kiroglu, 29, was beaten unconscious twice along the street after leaving his church premises in Adana at about 5 p.m. Wielding a long butcher knife, one of the unidentified attackers threatened to kill him if he refused to deny his Christian faith and return to Islam.

The four Turks involved in the attack appeared to be in their late teens but were led by a foreigner probably 10 years older who claimed to be from Turkmenistan . At one point, the group’s leader said he was acting on behalf of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

The five strangers showed up at the Adana Protestant Church ’s rented facility near the city center 45 minutes before the Sunday service began at 2 p.m. About 40 people, the usual number, were attending the service.

Introducing himself to church members as a Christian from Turkmenistan , the group’s leader made a show of speaking Russian. He said that he had “converted” the four Turks with him to Christianity, but that he did not know how to teach them.

The others chimed in, saying, “We want to know more. Please teach us about Jesus.” They claimed to have come from Mersin and Gaziantep , cities 35 and 120 miles, respectively, from Adana .

Following the service, Kiroglu suggested the visitors ask him their questions as church members lingered at the facility drinking tea. But they said it was too crowded to talk freely, insisting they would wait to talk with him after everyone else had left.

Some minutes later, Kiroglu began to become suspicious, realizing that he was now alone with them in the building. All five stood whispering together near the door, blocking him from leaving.

Explaining that he and the other church leaders all had previous appointments, Kiroglu glanced out the door and called to an expatriate friend waiting for him outside. When his friend appeared, the group reluctantly started to leave, talking among themselves about a “package” they had left inside.

“If you have left any package inside, go and get it,” Kiroglu told them, “because I am going to lock the door.”

Surprised, the leader tried to deny saying anything about a package. But then he said abruptly, “There is a package for you from Al-Qaeda. It is a surprise. You will soon know what it is.” Then the men quickly strode away.

“When I heard this, I shut the door,” Kiroglu said, “and I was really frightened.”

Shouting to his expatriate friend, who did not understand Turkish, to run, he took out his cell phone to call the police.

But when the men looked back and saw what Kiroglu was doing, they whirled and rushed back toward him. He said one of them shouted, “We don’t want Christians in this country!”

Ignoring the church leader’s confused foreign friend, the men chased and caught Kiroglu and began to strike him severely with their fists and feet. “I was trying to protect my face,” Kiroglu said, “but soon I was lying on the ground, covered in blood, and they were still kicking and beating me.”

After briefly losing consciousness, he managed to get to his feet and start running again, but again the attackers caught up with him.

“They were trying to force me to deny Jesus,” Kiroglu said. “But each time they asked me to deny Jesus and become a Muslim, I was saying, ‘Jesus is Lord.’ The more I said ‘Jesus is Lord,’ the more they beat me.”

Kiroglu saw in one man’s hands a long butcher knife, which he later learned had been grabbed from a nearby kebap restaurant. Shoving the knife against Kiroglu’s stomach, the attacker said, “I’m asking you again, deny Jesus, or I will kill you now.”

“Then I realized there was no way of saving myself,” Kiroglu said. “He was going to kill me.”

Suddenly, the Christian said, he felt two heavy blows, one on his head and the other on his spine, and everything went dark. When he regained consciousness, his attackers were gone and his friend was trying to wake him up.

Kiroglu then went directly to a nearby police station, where officers took him to the hospital for treatment. Although his assailants never stabbed him, doctors put six stitches into his bleeding mouth, and his head and other parts of his body remained swollen and painful for nearly a week after the beatings. His glasses were also shattered during the attack.

A squad of anti-terrorist police immediately searched the church building after Kiroglu told them about the “package” threat. But instead of a feared bomb, the package turned out to be a huge knife almost three feet long, wrapped up and hidden under a bench.

Pastor Umberto Coello said Turkish security police took the attack very seriously, sending many officers to patrol the area of the church the following Sunday.

Kiroglu told Compass that the attack had put him into “a different dimension” in his life.

“I am praising God not because he saved me from death,” Kiroglu said, “but because he helped me not to deny him in the shadow of death.”

Kiroglu, who supports himself as a translator and interpreter, became a Christian four and one-half years ago. The Adana Protestant Church , begun in 2001, is one of three Protestant congregations in the city, two of them worshipping in Turkish.

A similar attack 14 months ago targeted a U.S. Christian in Gaziantep ’s Protestant congregation. Three teenage assailants tied and gagged their victim in his office, threatening him with a pistol and claiming they had orders from Al-Qaeda to “put him away.”

Turkish security police investigating both incidents suggested that local extremist youths could be claiming the Al-Qaeda label in order to intimidate Turks from converting to Christianity.

“Definitely, Al-Qaeda never behaves like this,” Adana police investigators told Kiroglu. “If they had come to your church, they would bomb it and kill people. But maybe some people are giving these unruly youths money to do this.”

The tiny Protestant community of overwhelmingly Muslim (but officially secular) Turkey consists of an estimated 3,500 Turkish Christians who worship in some 95 churches, many of them house fellowships.