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World >

Church leaders condemn murder of US hostage

by Gerald Butt, Middle East Correspondent

Posted: 21 Nov 2014 @ 12:18

AP

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Shared sorrow: Ed and Paula Kassig, the parents of Abdul-Rahman Kassig, who was beheaded by IS, speak at a news conference on Monday

Credit: AP

Shared sorrow: Ed and Paula Kassig, the parents of Abdul-Rahman Kassig, who was beheaded by IS, speak at a news conference on Monday

THE Archbishop of Canterbury was among church leaders and politicians who denounced the murder of another foreigner by the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria last week. Archbishop Welby tweeted the following message: "Utter injustice seen in reported terrible murder of Abdul-Rahman Kassig, our prayer, love, sympathy for his family & friends in Indiana."

David Cameron said that he had been "horrified by the cold-blooded murder" of Mr Kassig. President Obama labelled the killing "pure evil", and the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said that IS leaders "assume that the world will be too intimidated to oppose them. But let us be clear: We are not intimidated."

AP

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Hilltop view: smoke rises from the city of Kobani, in Syria, after a strike by the US-led coalition on Monday

Credit: AP

Hilltop view: smoke rises from the city of Kobani, in Syria, after a strike by the US-led coalition on Monday

A group of 127 Islamic theologians and other Muslims from around the world have written an open letter to the IS leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, condemning, among other things, the killing of foreigners. The letter was presented to the diocesan synod in Oxford last weekend by one of the signatories, Monawar Hussain, who is an imam and the founder of the Oxford Foundation. The 23-page letter consists of a detailed critique of IS ideology and actions.

One section deals with the "killing of emissaries". It says that journalists who are honest "are emissaries of truth, because their job is to expose the truth to people in general. You have mercilessly killed the journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. . . Aid workers are also emissaries of mercy and kindness, yet you killed the aid worker David Haines. What you have done is unquestionably forbidden (haraam)."

The letter reminds the IS leader how his followers had given Arab Christians in Syria and Iraq three choices: to pay a poll tax, convert to Islam, or be killed. The letter says: "You destroyed their churches, and, in some cases, looted their homes and property. You killed some of them, and caused many others to flee their homes with nothing but their lives and the clothes on their backs. These Christians are not combatants against Islam or transgressors against it; indeed, they are friends, neighbours, and co- citizens."

The letter emphasises that Arab Christians "are not strangers to these lands, but, rather, of the native peoples of these lands, from pre-Islamic times. For the past 1400 years they have defended their countries against the Crusaders, colonialists, Israel, and other wars; how, then, can you treat them as enemies?"

The plight of Syrian and Iraqi Christians is being taken up by a cross-party group of MPs who are seeking urgent meetings with the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, and the Home Secretary, Theresa May. The MPs want to discuss what more might be done to help. The initiative follows a meeting earlier this month at the House of Commons, which was addressed by the head of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the UK, Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod.

Archbishop Athanasius told MPs and others present that Christians in Syria and Iraq were facing genocide and ethnic cleansing, while many of those who had fled were enduring conditions of appalling hardship.

One of the MPs, Robert Flello, said that the Archbishop had delivered "a stark message that things are getting far more desperate than ever" for those inside their home countries, and those who were camped in neighbouring states. Archbishop Athanasius had also made it clear that "Western governments had not stepped up to the plate quick enough to protect Christians."

To try to rectify this, Mr Flello and about half a dozen other MPs from across the political spectrum are seeking meetings at the Foreign Office and Home Office as soon as possible. "We want to impress on the Foreign Secretary the seriousness of the situation for Syrian and Iraqi Christians," Mr Flello said. Similarly with the Home Office, the MPs want to see what more can be done under existing laws and regulations to help Christians.

Archbishop Athanasius said that he was not in favour of foreign troops being deployed in either Syria or Iraq. Instead, he wanted Western governments to take diplomatic action to make sure that neighbouring countries were doing all they could, not just to provide shelter to Christian refugees, but also to allow them to pray and conduct their traditional rituals in exile.

In the House of Lords this week, a Foreign Office Minister, Baroness Anelay of St John's, said that the Government had committed £23 million of humanitarian assistance to Iraq, and a total of £700 million to Syria. Lady Anelay said that the Government believed the only way to secure the position of minority communities in Syria was through establishing an inclusive political solution to the crisis. The UK remained determined to support the moderate opposition.

Asked about the fate of Yazidis in Iraq, Lady Anelay said that the impact on the Yazidi community and others was "devastating".

"UN estimates show 1.9 million people in Iraq have been displaced by violence. All UK-funded aid is distributed on the basis of the need to ensure civilians are not discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, or ethnicity.

"The Government has therefore not carried out an assessment of the total number of Yazidis, but would continue to work with the UN and the international community to ensure basic needs are met."

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Fri 21 Nov 14 @ 18:23
This week's @churchtimes caption competition (£) http://t.co/7MLykjnfbO http://t.co/e2W7Dcex09

Fri 21 Nov 14 @ 18:11
Church leaders condemn murder of American hostage http://t.co/qvOo6JbXHX