By Worthy News Africa Service
ALGIERS, ALGERIA (Worthy News)– Islamists burned and looted a Protestant church in northern Algeria in an attack that was fueled by violence against Christians elsewhere in the Muslim and Arab world, church officials said Monday, January 11.
The Pentecostal oriented Tafat Church, which is located in an apartment block in the city of Tizi Ouzou some 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of the capital Algiers, was reportedly ransacked and set ablaze on Saturday night, January 9.
"They even attacked the cross of Jesus, which was torn and burned," church pastor Mustapha Krireche toldAlgerian media.
The independent El Watan daily published a photo of a smoldering pile of pulpits and desksthat had been brought outside for destruction. Looters also set fire to a pile of Bibles and religious textbooks, Christians aid.
Krireche accused authorities of "inaction", and suggested that police refused to intervene, forcing worshipers to flee. "We've filed five complaints with the security services" he said. "If authorities want to dissolve our association, they should do so through the courts," El Watan quoted the pastor as saying.
Some 300 Pentecostal practitioners in the area used the apartment because authorities refused to provide them with another venue, church officials said.
The head of the Algerian Protestant Church association, Mustapha Krim, suggested that the attackers were encouraged by recent anti-Christian violence in predominantly Muslim Egypt and Malaysia. "It was fueled by what just happened in Egypt," where six people, were killed in a church shooting during Christmas celebrations, Krim told The Associated Press news agency.
In Malaysia, at least nine churches have also been recently burned down amid violence against the country's Christian minority. "Islamist intolerance considers there is no room for Christian religious practices in Algeria," Krim added
This weekend's violence came after dozens of Muslims formed a human chain last month outside the recently opened worship site of the Tafat congregation. "Here is the land of Islam, go pray somewhere else!" demonstrators shouted, as Christians tried to enter to celebrate Christmas on December 26, reported El Watan.
Christians said church pastor Krireche also received death threats.Algeria allows the practice of other faiths , but only in authorized venues. Churches and rights groups say there has been a crackdown on Christian converts in this mainly Muslim nation since 2006, when a controversial law was passed demanding non-Muslim congregations seek permits from regional authorities.
Under the controversial legislation Algerians can also be fined up to 1 million dinars (about $14,000)and sentenced to five years in prison for printing, storing or distributing materials intended to convert Muslims away from Islam.
The state-appointed Higher Islamic Council has defended the measures saying especially Protestant evangelicals"are secretly trying to divide Algerians to colonize the country."
Small Protestant groups have been accused of proselytizing, or trying to convert Muslims to Christianity,which is illegal in Algeria. Several Protestants were prosecuted last year for illegally carrying Bibles or allegedly converting people to Christianity and "illegal" worship.
Krim said the Algerian Protestant Association was officially registered in 2003 and is tolerated by authorities,but often turned down by the Ministry of Religious Affairs when it files requests for houses of worship.There has been international pressure on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to allow more religious freedom in his country. (With Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos).