100 Eritrean Christians Kidnapped by ISIS, Rashaida in the Past Week

By Troy Augustine

6/8/15 Washington, DC (International Christian Concern) – Muslim groups have reportedly abducted 100 Eritrean Christians, including women and children, in two separate kidnappings this past week in Libya and Sudan. According to an Eritrean activist based in Sweden, the Islamic State (ISIS) abducted 86 Eritrean Christians traveling to Tripoli, Libya on June 3, while letting fellow Muslims go free. On June 4, unknown gunmen, suspected to be from the Sudanese Rashaida tribe, reportedly opened fire on a convoy of between 49 and 70 Eritrean refugees en route from Wadi Sharifey near Kassala to Shagarab refugee camp, kidnapping 14 Christians.

Eyewitnesses of the ISIS kidnapping reported that militants targeted Christians specifically. “IS militants asked everyone who is Muslim or not and everybody started saying they are Muslims. But you have to know the Koran, and [the Christians] didn’t,” said Meron Estefanos, co-founder of the International Commission on Eritrean Refugees based in Stockholm, Sweden.

Most of the Christians held hostage are from Adi Keih, Eritrea, a city marked by opposition to the Eritrean regime.

The ISIS kidnapping is the second large-scale abduction of Eritrean Christians to reach the Western media in the past two months. The terror group dominated headlines April 19, when they released a video showing the shooting and beheading of 30 Ethiopian and Eritrean Christians filmed in two scenes in the Libyan desert and on a beach.

“We are confused. We really don’t know what to do,” Neamen Mesgina, an Eritrean from a Christian ministry called the Global Transformation Network, told International Christian Concern. “We are interceding for [the hostages] and God must intervene.”

The 86 ISIS hostages include at least 12 women and children, according to reports.

14 Christians Kidnapped in Sudan

In Sudan, the Rashaida tribe is notorious for abducting Eritreans from refugee camps and demanding ransoms. The attack occurred less than one mile outside Shagarab refugee camp where the convoy was headed. Shagarab is widely known in Sudan as a common target for Rashaida, who reportedly engages in illegal human trafficking ventures with Sinai Bedouins.

An unknown number of refugees in the convoy escaped the Rashaida shooting, but at least two people were injured during the attack and are reportedly being treated at a nearby hospital.

“UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) is providing support to the survivors, who have been moved to Shagarab camp and is in contact with the Sudanese authorities, who are investigating the case,” UNHCR said in a statement.

According to International Business Times, Rashaida is demanding a $5,000 ransom for Yoursalem, one of the five women in captivity, a number that also includes seven children and two men. “They told me that if I don’t pay they will shop her to another tribe or just kill her,” said her brother Berehet, an Eritrean refugee now living in Norway.

Eritrean Christians Choose Between Two Sides of Persecution

Libya and Sudan are two of the most dangerous places on earth for Christians. In Libya, in addition to the threat from ISIS, Christians face unspeakable persecutions including labor discrimination, sexual abuse, thievery, exploitation, and even murder. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity for his extermination of black Christians in Darfur. Also, two Christian pastors from South Sudan are currently being jailed for their faith in Sudan, a persecution story that has sparked an international outcry calling for their release.

The recent spike in abductions in north and east Africa coincides with massive migrations of people from Sub-Saharan Africa through Libya and Sudan attempting to reach Europe to earn a better living. Christians face the most danger in these places rife with Muslim extremism, smuggling, and in Libya’s case, terrorism and the lack of any stable government to provide security.

Eritrean Christians often have to choose between living in their home country where their authoritarian government has arbitrarily imprisoned believers in Jesus because their faith, or risking their lives to trek across territory infested with extremists trying to eradicate them.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recently designated Eritrea and Sudan as “Countries of Particular Concern (CPC),” which means they are characterized by “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” abuses against religious freedom.

The agency’s 2015 Annual Report details that prisoners jailed for their faith in Eritrea are often locked up in metal shipping containers, subjected to extreme temperatures, beaten, tortured, and pressured to deny Christ. In Sudan, USCIRF reports that the government regularly imprisons Christian converts from Islam, either executing them for apostasy or forcing them to recant their faith. Christian persecution is also nothing new in Libya.

“Christian people, especially from Eritrea and Ethiopia, are discriminated against in Libya because of the religion issue,” Eritrean Catholic priest Mussie Zerai told Radio France Intenationale. “It’s not the first time, it’s not new — discrimination or bad treatment, all these things. But it’s the first time they are targeted in this way. They are killed by ISIS because they are Christian,” he said speaking of the ISIS video.

ICC is currently working with its partners in Africa to try and identify the kidnapped victims. Please pray for their safety and speedy release as they face unimaginable horrors for the sake of Christ.

ICC’s Regional Manager of Africa Troy Augustine said, “The increasing trend of the kidnapping of Christians and targeting them just because of their faith is intensely disturbing. During times like these, the Church must show that we remember our brothers and sisters when they are imprisoned for Christ just as if we are ourselves were in chains. We stand with them in prayer and call for their immediate release, whether they are currently being held hostage by ISIS, Rashaida, or the Eritrean state.”

For interviews Please Contact Troy Augustine, Regional Manager for Africa: rm-africa@persecution.org

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