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Afghanistan: Bomb kills 63 at wedding in Kabul

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attack

Burials are taking place in the Afghan capital, Kabul after a bomb exploded at a wedding hall killing 63 people and wounding more than 180. 

The Islamic State (IS) group said it was behind for the attack. 

The blast happened on Saturday (17 AUG) during a wedding ceremony at around 22:40 local time (18.10 GMT). 

President Ashraf Ghani has condemned the attack, describing it as “barbaric”. He blamed the Taliban for “providing a platform to terrorists.”

The Taliban has denied involvement and condemned the attack.

What happened?

An IS statement said that one of its fighters blew himself up at a “large gathering” while others “detonated a parked explosives-laden vehicle” when emergency services arrived. 

The Afghan interior ministry confirmed the death toll hours later. Pictures on social media showed bodies strewn across the wedding hall amid overturned chairs and tables.

Afghan weddings often include hundreds of guests who gather in large halls where the men are usually segregated from the women and children.

The groom who gave his name as Mirwais told local TV: “My family, my bride are in shock, they cannot even speak. My bride keeps fainting. 

“I lost my brother, I lost my friends, I lost my relatives. I will never see happiness in my life again.”

“I can’t go to the funerals, I feel very weak … I know that this won’t be the last suffering for Afghans, the suffering will continue,” he said.

Burials are taking place in Kabul following the attack

The bride’s father told local media that 14 members of his family were killed in the attack. 

Wedding guest Mohammad Farhag said he had been in the women’s section when he heard a huge explosion in the men’s area. 

“Everyone ran outside shouting and crying,” he told AFP news agency.

“For about 20 minutes the hall was full of smoke. Almost everyone in the men’s section is either dead or wounded.”

More than 180 people were injured in the bombing

A waiter at the hall, Sayed Agha Shah, said “everybody was running” after the blast.

“Several of our waiters were killed or wounded,” he added.

Writing on Twitter, president Ashraf Ghani said he had called a security meeting to “review and prevent such security lapses.

Ashraf Ghani✔@adminfitwshrafghani

I strongly condemn the inhumane attack on the wedding hall in Kabul last night. My top priority for now is to reach out to the families of victims of this barbaric attack. On behalf of the nation I send my heartfelt condolences to the families of those who were martyred.

End of Twitter post by @ashrafghani

The explosion took place in the west of the city, mostly populated by Shia Muslims. 

Sunni Muslim militants, including the Taliban and the Islamic State group, have repeatedly targeted Shia Hazara minorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A Taliban spokesman said the group “strongly condemned” the attack.

“There is no justification for such deliberate and brutal killings and targeting of women and children,” Zabiullah Mujaheed said in a text message to the media.

What’s the background?

The latest blast comes just 10 days after a huge bomb outside a Kabul police station killed at least 14 people and injured nearly 150. 

The Taliban said they carried out that attack. 

On Friday a brother of Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada was killed by a bomb planted in a mosque near the Pakistani city of Quetta.

No group has so far claimed that attack.

A source in Afghan intelligence told the BBC that Hibatullah Akhundzada had been due to attend prayers at the mosque and was probably the intended target.

Tensions in the country have been high even though the Taliban and the US, which has thousands of troops stationed in Afghanistan, are reportedly getting closer to announcing a peace deal. 

Worried relatives gathered outside a hospital in Kabul on Saturday

How are Afghan peace talks progressing?

Taliban and US representatives have been holding peace talks in Qatar’s capital, Doha, and both sides have reported progress.

On Friday, US President Donald Trump tweeted that both sides were “looking to make a deal – if possible”.

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump

Just completed a very good meeting on Afghanistan. Many on the opposite side of this 19 year war, and us, are looking to make a deal – if possible!

End of Twitter post by @realDonaldTrump

The deal would include a phased US troop pullout in exchange for Taliban guarantees that Afghanistan will not be used by extremist groups to attack US targets.

The Taliban would also begin negotiations with an Afghan delegation on a framework for peace including an eventual ceasefire. The militants have been refusing to negotiate with the Afghan government until a timetable for the US withdrawal is agreed upon.

The Taliban now control more territory than at any point since they were forced from power in 2001.

Source: BBC News

Pastor in Colombia assassinated—fourth church leader killed in 11 months

We have reports that another pastor in Colombia has been targeted and murdered—the fourth church leader killed in less than a year in the country.

A day before he would preach to his congregation on Sunday, 39-year-old Colombian Pastor Plinio Rafael Salcedo was killed in his home in the town of La Caucana on Saturday, August 10,  while he was resting. Armed men stormed the pastor’s home, shooting him in front of his children and wife. He died from multiple gunshot wounds.

Like many church leaders in Colombia, Pastor Salcedo was also a highly recognized and appreciated leader in his community where he also led a well-known church. Open Doors worker Sebastian Villalba * described him as a “man passionate for the gospel who enjoyed preaching and learning about Christ and His Word.”

Fourth church leader targeted by illegal armed groups

Pastor Salcedo’s murder followed a protest by Protestants and Catholics for peace between illegal armed groups and guerillas. This area in northwestern Colombia has been going through a deep security crisis due to the power dispute between the two groups. Despite claims of peace by Colombia’s government, the area remains extremely volatile as these armed groups target church leaders with impunity.

Since September 2018, four church leaders in Colombia have been targeted and killed, including Pastor Hector Galarza in September 2018, 24-year-old Pastor Leider Molina, 24, in February and Pastor Tomas Francisco Estrada*. Pastors Molina and Estrada were killed in six days of each other.

The region has suffered record-high violence, due to the presence of armed groups that dispute the control of drug trafficking routes and the ownership of illicit crops. These groups see the Christian church as an enemy to be eradicated.

The preaching and courageous action of leaders and pastors in the country have dissuaded many young people from joining these criminal groups. Many youth have even renounced armed conflict and illegal operations. Today, it’s estimated that some 14,000 children are enlisted in criminal arms groups in Colombia.

And in places where the Christian church maintains a strong influence, residents are less inclined to be part of criminal operations. By preaching the Word of God, the Christian church establishes a direct opposition to the purposes of the armed groups. In response, these groups attack the church’s leaders.

One area pastor told Open Doors that “the proclamation of the gospel has never been easy, but in our region, it is a matter of life or death. However, we don’t stop.”

In response to this recent tragedy, Open Doors is sending a specialized care team to Pastor Salcedo’s family to provide both presence and support. As the Body of Christ, we’re called to pray with this family and be part of their story: Please pray for healing from trauma, that Pastor Salcedo’s family will feel God’s presence and turn to Him for their comfort and strength. Pray for his church and other church leaders who may be fearful. And pray with us for protection for the Open Doors team as they travel to an area in the midst of one of the region’s deepest security crises.

*representative name used for security reasons

Source: Open Doors USA

Christian Family Takes Refuge in Mountains after Expulsion from their Home in Mexico

Eight children, 87-year-old grandfather drink rain water, collected dew.


Pastor Mario Choj visits Pérez family in Mitontic, Chiapas, Mexico. (Morning Star News photo courtesy of Federico Sarao)

MIAMI (Morning Star News) – Miguel Pérez Díaz, his eight children and 87-year-old father have been living in a mountainside shack since May, when local officials expelled them from their village in Chiapas state, Mexico.

Relatives, friends and neighbors in Tajlovijho, a village in the municipality of San Andrés Larráinzar in southern Mexico, had been harassing them for leaving indigenous religious practices for Christianity, sources said.

“The first action they took against them was to cut their potable water service,” pastor Mario Choj told Morning Star News. “Then they made them leave the humble home they owned.”

Leaving the “traditionalist” blend of Roman Catholic and indigenous rituals and beliefs, the Pérez family put their faith in Christ four years ago and began a small fellowship in their home, said Pastor Choj, who leads an Assemblies of God Church called Jesús Es el Camino.

The family loaded the few belongings their neighbors allowed them to take and headed up the mountains to a village called Mitontic, where they survive by collecting the morning dew from a nylon sheet and rain water that falls from the metal roof of the shanty they built, the pastor said. They store the water in empty soda bottles and other containers.

Shack where the Pérez family has taken refuge in Mitontic, Chiapas, Mexico. (Morning Star News photo courtesy of Foto Federico Sarao)

Despite taking refuge far from their home, they are obligated to pay Tajlovijho officials 500 pesos (US$26) each month to keep authorities from taking possession of their house and remaining belongings, sources said.

Pastor Choj said Pérez told him the family is ready to suffer for Christ.

“To follow Christ is beautiful,” Pérez said, according to the pastor. “It doesn’t matter if we have to live in suffering, persecution and contempt from our village. Everyone in the family says that to live close to God is a blessing, and we delight in the salvation found only in Jesus Christ.”

Their case is one of thousands in which indigenous Mexican families that have been driven from their homes and lost all their belongings “only because they have accepted that Jesus is the only hope that we Mexicans have to be free of sin and eternal punishment,” Pastor Choj said.

The “traditionalist” religious mix practiced by the area’s predominantly ethnic Tzotzil, who are of Mayan origin, includes drunken festivals honoring pagan idols that evangelical Christians eschew. In a misuse of Mexico’s “Uses and Customs” law designed to protect indigenous culture, local caciques (political “bosses”) cite local regulations requiring villagers to contribute fees toward and participate in the festivals.

Christian attorneys note that this misuse of Mexico’s “Uses and Customs” laws violates the guarantee of religious freedom in Article 24 of Mexico’s constitution.

Similar cases of persecution have happened in Oaxaca, Durango and other states outside of Chiapas. In July residents of Huejutla, Hidalgo state, cut water service to two Christian families for refusing to participate in “Catholic festivals of the community,” according to online outlet Animal Político.

Denying any religious motive, officials with the Ministry of Interior blamed the two evangelical families “because they did not fulfill their duties” to villagers and did not “participate in their ‘uses and customs,’” the news cite reported.

In Chiapas, Pérez and his family, including wife Guadalupe Hernández and father Miguel Pérez Núñez, came to faith in Christ after reading an evangelistic pamphlet printed and distributed by Cruzada Mexican, a ministry also known as Every Home for Christ-México, Pastor Choj said. Volunteers leave the pamphlets, New Testaments and other Christian literature, some of them translated into indigenous languages, at area Protestant churches.

“The Pérez family previously lived happy and faithful, but they did not know what trials were coming to their peaceful life,” Pastor Choj said. “But they pray that more Christians would spread the Word of God, as many still need to know the love that is available only from Jesus Christ. They also pray for all the families expelled from their own houses and lands.”

Mexico ranks 39th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the 50 countries where Christians experience the most persecution.

Source: Morning Star News

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176 children lost one or both parents in Sri Lanka Easter bombings

Woman kneels at altar, St Anthony’s shrine, Colombo where 54 died on Easter Sunday, 2019 (Credit: World Watch Monitor)

At least 176 children lost either one or both of their parents in the Sri Lanka Easter Sunday bombings, according to the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith.

Just over three months ago, at St. Anthony’s Shrine in the country’s capital saw a powerful explosion rip apart the bodies of worshippers. The shrine has already been rebuilt, but its congregation could not hold back their tears as they met for a packed Sunday service on the three month anniversary, July 21 – although not all survivors were yet emotionally ready to return to the parish.

Of the more than 250 people who died in the bombings in three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka, 54 were from St. Anthony’s, announced the priest, Fr. Jude Fernando during the service, as armed military personnel guarded the church and frisked all visitors. At least 106 worshippers were wounded in the explosion, he added.

Riswani, a mother of two and a convert from Islam, still cannot hear in one ear, which was wounded in the bombing. She was attending Easter service with her seven-month-old daughter, Athara. When her husband, Michel Thass, arrived – delayed as their five-year-old son wanted to sleep for longer – he found his wife lying on the floor, covered with pieces of flesh and blood from other victims. Baby Athara was found lying at a distance, her intestines hanging out of her stomach.

Athara, who’s had to undergo three surgeries, has recovered, but her mother is still in a state of shock, Thass told Vishal Arora in this film for World Watch Monitor.

Islamist extremists bombed three churches, including St. Sebastian’s in Negombo (outside Colombo, close to the international airport) and the evangelical Zion Church in the city of Batticaloa in the Eastern Province, several hundred miles from the capital.

On July 21, St. Sebastian’s held their first service since the terror attacks.

In Batticaloa, some injured victims remain hospitalised, some still unaware that their children or spouses have succumbed to injuries, Raghu Balachandran from the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka said.

Helping victims and survivors deal with their emotional trauma is the biggest need at the moment, but there are few Christian counsellors available, he added.

Source: World Watch Monitor

Plea for prayers for jailed Pastor Wang Yi as Chinese authorities “disregard” his defence team

Authorities in China are to “disregard” the two lawyers appointed by jailed Pastor Wang Yi to defend him against a charge of incitement to “subvert state power” and will appoint their own “Christian” attorneys to represent him, according to Early Rain Church.

Members of the congregation said they “strongly oppose” the appointment of state-authorised lawyers to defend the pastor “against his will”, regardless of whether they are Christians.

In an emergency statement published on Facebook on 10 August the church said, “Pastor Wang Yi does not accept, does not recognise, and even condemns all actions performed [in his defence] by state-appointed attorneys, and he refuses to accept attorneys appointed by anyone but himself or his immediate family members. Our position is the same.”

Pastor Wang Yi in church before his arrest and detention by Chinese authorities in the city of Chengdu

The pastor and his wife, Jiang Rong, were arrested on 9 December 2018, along with about 100 other church members. He and four others remain in detention at the time of writing.

On 8 August, Zhang Peihong, one of the two defence lawyers appointed by Wang Yi and his family, said they still had not been allowed access to their client, who faces a second charge of “running illegal business operations”.

Zhang, who was refused access to see the pastor in Chengdu jail, Sichuan province on 17 July, said he had since made repeated requests to speak to the head of the public prosecution department but they all went unanswered.

The lawyer said, “Considering that Pastor Wang Yi is an expert on law, he must certainly be at a loss as to why he has not been able to meet with his lawyers. We must not rule out the possibility that relevant departments have hinted to him that the world has already forgotten him … Pastor Wang Yi needs your prayers.”

Early Rain members also reported on their Facebook page that the meetings of two other unofficial congregations, known as “house churches”, were “forcefully interrupted” in Chengdu on 4 August in a joint raid by the Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs and the Public Security Bureau. Early Rain members are also facing new travel restrictions. 

Source: Barnabas Fund