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Church Attacks in Senegal Must be Probed
“It is worrisome that no one, not even the government, has a clue who the attackers were although the attacks raise many questions. Does that mean a section of the Sufi Muslims have become extremist? If so, is a foreign group  behind it or some insiders are promoting radical Islam? Who is their leader? What is the strength of this new grouping and what are their plans?”

07/09/2011 Senegal (ANS)-At least six churches were attacked during the recent protests over constitutional amendments in Senegal in West Africa. These attacks in the national capital of Dakar are puzzling, as this Muslim-majority country is seen as a model of tolerance and religious co-existence.

According to a news release from the World Evangelical Alliance’s Religious Liberty Commission (WEA-RLC), protests erupted on June 23 after President Abdoulaye Wade made an attempt at what the civil society and political opposition called a “constitutional coup.”

His government introduced a bill seeking constitutional amendment reducing the voting percentage requirement to become president from 50 to 25 percent. That means, WEA-RLC said, Wade, already in power for 11 years, could remain in office.

“The protests had nothing to do with the churches that were attacked,” WEA-RLC Executive Director Godfrey Yogarajah said speaking in a news release.

“It is also clear,” Yogarajah said, “that the attacks were not spontaneous; they were planned and organized taking advantage of the protests. How else do you make sense of mobs launching attacks on six churches when there was absolutely no immediate provocation?”

Local sources have told WEA-RLC that the mobs targeted new churches including Pentecostal and Baptist, which are growing in the country. The Roman Catholic Church is seen as a traditional organization in Senegal, but some Protestant congregations are accused of having links with foreign groups and are also regarded with suspicion.

While churches have previously been attacked in the country, WEA-RLC said violence of this scale is a new development. Sufi Islam, to which the majority of Senegal’s Muslims belong, is widely believed to be tolerant. Over 90 percent of the 12.5 million people in the country are Muslim.

According to a news release, Abdoul Aziz Kebe, an Imam at a Dakar mosque and Professor of Islamology at Cheikh anta Diop University, condemned the violence. He stressed that Islam calls for peaceful relations between Muslims and members of other religions, according to West Africa Democracy Radio.

Speaking in the news release Yogarajah added, “It is worrisome that no one, not even the government, has a clue who the attackers were although the attacks raise many questions. Does that mean a section of the Sufi Muslims have become extremist? If so, is a foreign group behind it or some insiders are promoting radical Islam? Who is their leader? What is the strength of this new grouping and what are their plans?”

WEA-RLC said the organization urges the government to ensure religious freedom for all Christian and other groups and to investigate all aspects of the violence. In addition, WEA-RLC would like to see stopped the efforts to radicalize sections of the local Muslims, and to abstain from violent repression of protests, which it said will only lead to a state of anarchy in the country.

The Religious Liberty Commission monitors the religious liberty situation in more than 100 nations, defends persecuted Christians and gives assistance whenever possible. In addition, at the United Nations, the Commission reports about the situation and arranges special hearings with Christians from countries under pressure.

For further information, go to www.worldevangelicals.org/commissions/rlc