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India: Bishop ‘shocked’ after Assam attack

A bishop in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam has spoken of his “shock” after a local priest was attacked with a machete on 19 June.

Bishop Michael Akasius Toppo of Tezpur told UCA News it was “the first ever incident like this in our region”. (Assam is one of seven states in India’s north-east corner, linked to the rest of the country by a narrow strip of land. Tribal peoples there perceive themselves to be very different – in culture, identity, and even looks – from the rest of India.)

“We are clueless about the motive behind the attack,” said the Bishop. “So far no one has been arrested in the case.”

Father Sushil John Soren was discharged from hospital on 22 June, after receiving treatment for “serious wounds” to his hands.

Although this may have been a rare case of anti-Christian violence in Assam state, there have been regular attacks on Christians and churches elsewhere in the country, especially in the two years since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, as shown in this timeline.

In one recent incident on 16 June, a church was demolished in the southern city of Hyderabad. A week earlier, a cross was torn down in Mumbai. Meanwhile, on 2 June, World Watch Monitor reported that a video showing members of a Hindu nationalist group receiving firearms training went viral on social media in India.

The video, depicting Bajrang Dal members in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, was criticised as “coercing young people towards violence and encouraging violence against minorities”, reported the BBC.

Bangladesh Muslim clerics: terrorism ‘un-Islamic’

Bangladesh is holding its breath after 100,000 Bangladeshi Muslim clerics signed a “fatwa” stating terrorism and militancy are “un-Islamic”, following a spate of violent attacks.

Earlier this month, the attacks on religious minorities, secularists and atheists had led to the detention of more than 11,000 suspects, according to national police.

“The massive country-wide crackdown – some sources even talk of 14,000 detained – seems to be a reaction to growing pressure from within and outside the country to stop the continuing attacks and killings,” said Thomas Müller, an analyst for Open Doors International, which reports on Christianity under pressure around the world. “The last Christian killed for his faith was a 72-year-old Catholic businessman in the village of Bonpara on 5 June. Whether the crackdown really helps in stopping these killings remains to be seen. Authorities are continuously claiming that the perpetrators are not allied to [the so-called “Islamic State”], but belong to local extremist Islamic groups. In any case, the increasingly volatile situation does not comfort the Christian minority at all.”

An analysis by an Assistant Professor at the University of Dhaka of the historical, political and cultural conditions which have contributed to a polarised debate on the role of religion in society, leaving space for extremism to flourish, was published recently on the Tony Blair Faith Foundation website.

5 killed in suicide attacks in Lebanese village

At least five people were killed and 15 wounded in suicide bomb attacks early on Monday in the predominantly Christian village of Qaa, northern Lebanon - on a road linking its Bekaa valley to Syria.

Four bombers blew themselves up on Qaa's streets starting at 1am GMT. No group has yet claimed responsibility, though Al-Manar TV - a station owned by the militant Shia group, Hezbollah, who are fighting across the border in support of Syria's President Assad - has blamed Islamic State. 

Most of Qaa's residents are Christian though there is a predominantly Suuni Muslim area in the town. A large number of Syrian refugees have set up an informal camp adjacent to the village, according to AFP.

If Islamic State's involvement is confirmed, it would mark the first time the armed group has targeted a Christian village in Lebanon, although Lebanon has seen much violence linked to Syria both before and during the present war there.

Sources: BBC, Al Jazeera

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