Islamist Ultimatum to Syrian Christians: Convert, Leave, or Die | Persecution

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Islamist Ultimatum to Syrian Christians: Convert, Leave, or Die

ICC Note: Syria’s Christians fear an Islamist takeover should the current government be overthrown, the Assyrian International News Agency reports. While many Christians have publicly denounced the brutality of President Assad and by no means support the regime, most Christians see little hope in an alternative government which, they fear, will be led by Islamists who will hinder or outright abolish the religious freedoms long experienced by Christian in Syria. “There are several dozens of armed Salafi-jihadist groups both foreign and domestic currently operating in Syria that explicitly advocate Islamist agendas and possess the intentions and capabilities to commit violent persecution towards Syria’s Christians,” writes Matthew J. Thomas.

By Matthew J. Thomas

4/18/2013 Syria (AINA) – Syria’s Christians fear an Islamist takeover should the current government be overthrown. During the ongoing civil war there has been a well-documented rise in the number of salafi-jihadist groups operating in Syria that pose a direct threat to Syria’s Christian community.1 These militant opposition forces espouse an Islamist ideology, which incorporates elements of Wahhabism2 and Salafism3 and whose stated goals and objectives are by definition hostile towards Christians. Firsthand accounts from Syrian Christian refugees in Lebanon reported by award winning investigative journalist Nuri Kino detail the horror in which they described kidnappings, rapes, harassment, theft and other violent reprisals at the hands of Islamist groups.

Those who survived reported “just being Christian is enough to be a target,”4 disproving theories that violence and kidnapping directed towards Syrian Christians is purely incidental or for economic reasons. One individual openly declared “We’re not poor. We didn’t run from poverty […] we ran from fear.”5

There are several dozens of armed Salafi-jihadist groups both foreign and domestic currently operating in Syria that explicitly advocate Islamist agendas and possess the intentions and capabilities to commit violent persecution towards Syria’s Christians. Most notably from the global Sunni jihadist milieu is al-Jabhat al-Nusra lil-Ahl al-Sham min Mujahedin al-Sham fi Sahat al-Jihad (The Front for Supporting the People of Greater Syria by the Mujahedin of Syria on the Battlefields of Jihad) A.K.A. Jabhat al-Nusra, which in December 2012 the U.S. government officially listed as a terrorist organization.6 Also, on April 9 of this year the leader of Tanzim Qai’dat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (Organization of Jihad’s Base in Mesopotamia) A.K.A. al-Qaeda in Iraq released an audio announcement that officially declared the unification of al-Qaeda in Iraq and Jabhat al-Nusra including the establishment of an Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, effectively expanding the threat to Syria’s Christians.7 The other notable militant Islamist group is al-Jabhat al-Islamiya al-Suriya (Syrian Islamic Front), a large armed coalition force comprised of several interdependent blocs and alliances organized throughout Syria.8 Even the relatively less hardline al-Jaysh al-Suri al-Hurr (Free Syrian Army) and al-Majlis al-Watani al-Suri (Syrian National Council) are by no means monolithic entities, rather both exist as umbrella organizations comprised of several independent and competing ideological currents and sub-currents including Islamism.

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