Date: March 16, 2016
by Elizabeth Kendal
IVORY COAST: AL-QAEDA STRIKES CHRISTIAN WEST AFRICA
At 1 pm on Sunday 13 March heavily-armed masked gunmen from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's (AQIM's) al-Murabitoon struck Grand-Bassam, a beach resort town in south-eastern Ivory Coast (IC), killing 14 civilians and two soldiers. Only 40km south-east of IC's commercial capital, Abidjan, world heritage listed Grand Bassam served as the French colonial capital between 1893 and 1896. AQIM's al-Murabitoon is the same group that targeted the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, over 15-16 January, killing 29 civilians, including seven Christian aid workers. In November 2015 it attacked the Radisson Blue in Bamako, the capital of Mali, killing 22 civilians. AQIM is the same group that is holding Australian missionary Dr Ken Elliot (81), seized in northern Burkina Faso, and Swiss missionary Beatrice Stockly, seized in Timbuktu, northern Mali. [See RLPB 431 (27 Jan 2016). Jocelyn Elliot has since been released.] AQIM's strike in Grand Bassam was a strike deep into 'Christian' West Africa.
In Grand Bassam the terrorists roamed the beach shooting beach-goers and opened fire on the guests at the L'Etoile du Sud Hotel to shouts of 'Allahu Akbar' (Allah is Greater). Nearby Sacred Heart Cathedral opened its doors to offer shelter - first to dozens of people fleeing from the beach, then to some 50 hostages liberated by police from the L'Etoile du Sud. According to local media, Ivorian security forces were on high alert, having been advised 24 hours earlier that a terrorist attack was imminent. Southern Ivory Coast is predominantly Christian. If AQIM is looking for soft targets full of 'infidels' (local and foreign), the many churches, international schools, business centres and tourist resorts of southern Ivory Coast would prove hard to resist. Pray for security in Ivory Coast.
YEMEN: ISLAMIC STATE KILLS NUNS, KIDNAPS PRIEST
Yemen was two states before 1990: North Yemen (facing the Red Sea) and South Yemen (facing the Gulf of Aden). North Yemen was 60 percent Shia and existed as a Shia Imamate for 1000 years until 1962 when nominal Shia, Arab socialist Ali Abdullah Saleh seized power in a military coup. South Yemen, however, was 99 percent Sunni with a significant Marxist element. When the two states united in May 1990, cracks immediately appeared. Not only were the Shi'ites now a 30 percent minority, but with power based in Sanaa in the north, the southerners, feeling marginalised, started agitating for secession. When civil war erupted in 1994, President Saleh employed jihadists - veterans of the Afghan War - to fight his enemies. When a Shi'ite rebellion erupted in 2004, it quickly developed into a regional sectarian proxy war with Iran backing the Shi'ites and the Arabs (led by Saudi Arabia) backing the Sunnis. Though President Saleh was removed in the 'Arab Spring', no political solution has been found to Yemen's problems. The state remains blighted by sectarian war, with foreign powers backing opposing sides while al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Islamic State (IS) compete for territory and recruits. It is doubtful the remnant (mostly expatriate) Church will survive.
On 4 March IS jihadists stormed a retirement home run by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity in the highly strategic southern port city of Aden. The terrorists went room to room handcuffing elderly residents who were then taken outside and shot. When the terrorists came across Father Tom Uzhunnalil (56), an Indian Salesian priest, praying in the chapel, they locked him in. Fr Tom had been living at the charity home since September when AQAP sacked and burned his Aden parish [see RLPB 340 (15 Dec 2015)]. Along with three staff and at least eight elderly residents, four nuns were killed in the attack. Another nun managed to survive by hiding in a fridge; she is now on her way home to India. All these missionaries had resisted calls to leave Yemen, opting to stay and continue serving those in their care. After the slaughter, the jihadists returned to the chapel, handcuffed Fr Tom and took him away. His whereabouts remain unknown.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL
* intervene to deliver the foreign missionaries recently taken into captivity: Dr Ken Elliot and Beatrice Stockly (both captives of AQIM in northern Mali) and Fr Tom Uzhunnalil (a captive of IS in Yemen); may the captives be safe and filled with the peace of God.
'Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings' (Psalm 17:8 ESV). 'And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus' (Philippians 4:7 ESV).
* grant divine wisdom and insight to local civic and church leaders in troubled and insecure regions, thinking particularly of war-ravaged Yemen and vulnerable Ivory Coast. May the local people be alert (Acts 23:12-24); may the Church be sensitive to the Spirit's leading (Acts 16:6-10) and may the schemes of the wicked come to nothing (Psalm 146:9).