Suspected instigator of church attacks released
Hussein Beriso, a prominent local official accused of instigating the machete attacks against two churches in Nensebo Chebi village in Ethiopia, was released on bail over the weekend. 20 other suspects arrested in this case remain in jail, with their hearing postponed until April 25.
4/1/08 Ethiopia (CompassDirect) Ethiopian judicial authorities have released a prominent local official accused of instigating deadly church assaults that left one Christian dead and 17 wounded last month.
Local Christians confirmed over the weekend that Hussein Beriso, house speaker of the Nensebo District Council, has been released on bail by a court in southern Ethiopia’s Oromo region. But 20 other Muslim suspects arrested over the machete attacks against two churches in Nensebo Chebi village on March 2 remain jailed, a local source said.
Evangelical leaders based in Werka district, where Nensebo is located, have reported that just hours after the attack Beriso forced local Christians at gunpoint to bury the one murdered victim, Tula Mosisa. But after church leaders protested, security officers from West Arusi Zone later exhumed Mosisa’s corpse and sent it to Awasa for an official postmortem examination.
Local Christians insist that Beriso was personally involved in “buying and distributing machetes” for Muslims involved in the simultaneous attacks, which occurred during Sunday morning worship services in the two village churches.
They also said the house speaker had made public comments against Christians in February, calling for local Muslims to resist any attempts to convince them to leave Islam. Both of Nensebo’s churches have members of Muslim upbringing who have converted to Christianity.
Church leaders also named two other local officials accused of perpetrating the violence: Zerihun Tilahun, head of Nensebo district’s militia, and his deputy, Sheik Kedir.
Ten days ago, all 21 suspects arrested over the attacks were taken to court in Shashemene town, 85 miles from Nensebo village. But since three judges were not present, as legally required for a full bench in the courtroom, the March 21 hearing was postponed until April 25.
The zonal government prosecutor stated after the hearing that once police investigations are completed, he expects to be able to file a “strong case” against the suspects.
Four of the culprits under arrest have reportedly confessed during police interrogations that they helped to kill Mosisa, 45, and wound 17 other Christian worshippers with machetes in the planned raids against the Kale Hiwot and Birhane Wongel Baptist churches in Nensebo Chebi.
Church leaders have named four individuals among the arrested suspects whom they accuse of leading the violent attacks: Gemeda Beriso, Kedir Beriso, Keru Mamona and Hajji Kuma.
Local Christians Support Victims
According to a report on Thursday (March 27) from Holland-based Open Doors International (ODI), the Nensebo attack has drawn Christians in the predominantly Muslim-populated area closer together.
“The local church and Christians from a neighboring city are taking care of the needs of the Nensebo Chebi victims,” ODI reported, noting that all of the wounded victims have been discharged from the hospital.
Although federal police are controlling the area and local administration officials have appealed to the wounded Christians and their families to return to Nensebo, most have opted to remain in Awasa for medical treatment.
The 5-year-old boy whose arm was cut to the bone had to be brought back to the Awasa hospital for a few days after his first release, when his wounds encased by a cast continued to bleed.
Two of the victims, married men with four children each, lost one of their hands, and a young policeman in the congregation trying to defend the worshippers was stabbed in his thigh and calf after being felled by a gunshot to his right arm.
Mosisa, whose head was nearly severed in one stroke by a razor-sharp machete, died instantly. He had left his wife and eight children in a village far to the north of Addis Ababa to find work as a farmer in Nensebo.
After the official autopsy was completed, his body was sent to his home village for burial.
In a letter obtained by Compass yesterday, the Evangelical Churches Fellowship of West Arusi Zone based in the Werka district appealed directly to the Conflict Prevention Committee in the federal government’s House of Representatives to ensure that justice was carried out in the Nensebo Cheli violence.
Dated March 15 and signed by 16 pastors and church elders, the five-page appeal noted that previous attacks had occurred in the region in 2000, 2005 and 2006, when Christian places of worship had been stoned and set afire by Muslims.
The letter appealed to the Ethiopian government to implement Article 27 of the constitution, which guarantees freedom of worship. In particular, it protested that local Muslims holding official government positions were openly opposing efforts of Christian churches to establish places of worship and follow their faith peacefully.
Not only should the government punish those who resort to violence, the appeal said, but a careful investigation should also be conducted to identify the local officials involved in inciting religious hatred.