SCOPE OF BOKO HARAM MASSACRE CONFIRMED BY SATELLITE
Satellite images have provided shocking evidence of the scale of the recent attack on the towns of Baga and Doron Baga by Boko Haram militants. Before and after images of the two towns, show the devastating effect of the attacks which left over 3,700 structures damaged or destroyed. Other nearby towns and villages were also attacked over this period. “The detailed images show catastrophic devastation in these towns, which has almost wiped them off the map” said Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International, who released the images. “Of all Boko Haram assaults, this is the largest and most destructive. It was a deliberate attack on civilians whose homes, clinics and schools are now burnt out ruins,” Eyre added.
In Baga, approximately 620 structures were damaged or completely destroyed by fire. In Doron Baga over 3,100 structures were damaged or destroyed by fire. Many of the wooden fishing boats along the shoreline, visible in the “before” images, are no longer present in the “after” images tallying with eye witnesses’ testimony that desperate residents fled by boat across Lake Chad. Thousands of people have fled the violence into Chad and other parts of Nigeria. These people are adding to the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and refugees, who have already stretched the capacity of host communities and government authorities.
Human rights groups are calling on the governments of Nigeria and Chad to ensure these displaced people are protected and provided with adequate humanitarian assistance. Interviews with eyewitnesses, government officials and human rights activists suggest Boko Haram militants shot hundreds of civilians. A man in his 50’s told what happened in Baga during the attack. He said: “They killed many people. I saw around 100 dead in Baga. I ran into the bush. As I was running, they were shooting and killing.” The man hid in the bush and was later discovered by Boko Haram fighters, who detained him for four days. Those who fled describe seeing many more corpses in the bush.
“There were bodies everywhere,” one woman said. Another witness described how Boko Haram shot even small children and a woman who was in labour. “Half of the baby boy was out and she died like this,” he said. Boko Haram fighters have repeatedly targeted communities that have formed state-sponsored militia groups known as the Civilian Joint Task Force (Civilian JTF). Civilian JTF groups were active in Baga and a senior military official confirmed that at times the military took these members on operations to attack Boko Haram positions. A witness has said that during the attack on Baga he heard Boko Haram fighters saying they were searching for Civilian JTF members, as they went about shooting men of fighting age.
After the attack on Baga, witnessdescribe how Boko Haram drove into the bush rounding up women, children and the elderly who had escaped.
According to one woman who was detained for four days “Boko Haram took around 300 women and kept us in a school in Baga. They released the older women, mothers and most of the children after four days but are still keeping the younger women.” Amnesty International is calling on Boko Haram to stop the deliberate killing of civilians which is a war crime against humanity and must be duly investigated. The government should take all possible legal steps to restore security in the north-east and ensure protections of civilians, Amnesty said.
Residents have not been able to bury the dead, nor count their number. But the satellite images, combined with testimonies, provide a picture of the deadly attack the severity of which is becoming clearer. Since 2009, Boko Haram has deliberately targeted civilians with attacks increasing in frequency and severity. The effects on the civilian population have been devastating with more than 4000 killed in 2014 alone. Hundreds more have been abducted and hundreds of thousands forced to leave their homes. 5,000 survivors of the attack on Baga are staying in a camp in the capital Maiduguri. The UN refugee agency has reported that some 7,300 Nigerian refugees had arrived in western Chad.
FAMOUS FORMER LESBIAN PUBLISHER AND GAY ACTIVIST TRANSFORMED BY CHRIST
At a tender age, she became convinced boys only wanted one thing—sex. She lost her innocence and got turned off by boys’ aggressiveness, gradually moving toward a lesbian lifestyle. Despite a Baptist church upbringing, she turned her back on God and eventually became a prominent gay activist and the publisher of Venus magazine. “I didn’t know how to handle attention from men and boys,” recalls Charlene Cothran. “I was tall for my age and fully developed at nine-years-old.” Her parents divorced when she was three and the absence of a father left her hungry for affirmation from the opposite sex. “I wanted a guy to really like me.” But when she discovered that most of the boys she met wanted one thing, it turned her off.
“I decided no more of this,” Charlene recounts. She closed her heart to boys at 14 and fell into lesbianism which felt like a “safe alternative.” She drifted from her upbringing. “I learned the Scripture; knew about Christ, the Cross, and His redemptive power. I believed it.” She had once been a youth leader in her church. When she went off to college in the ’70s she began to explore gay clubs and culture in the Atlanta area. “Little by little I gave more and more of myself, my thoughts, and my belief system to the gay lifestyle.” She embraced lesbianism and wanted nothing to do with the straight world. After college, Charlene organised private social events for black lesbians, which were very successful and drew a large following.
Ten years later, she launched Venus magazine. Aimed at African American gays and lesbians, it gained a multitude of subscribers throughout the world. At the height of her publishing career, she was hit by the unexpected death of her mother. Charlene and her live-in partner decided to move closer to her grandmother in Yonkers, New York following her mother’s death. “Every time I put flowers on my mother’s grave I was reminded this is where I’m going to be some day. That made me stop and think about things that are eternal. What will happen on the other side of death? she wondered. “Gays did not pay attention to eternity,” she says. “They pretended that every gay person who died is in Heaven.”
Because of her Church upbringing she considered the seeds planted in her formative years, but felt conflicted. “I didn’t think I could get out of the lesbian lifestyle or access the love God created between a man and a woman.” In June, 2006, Charlene placed a call to a female minister in New Jersey. “Where are you in the Lord?” the woman asked Charlene. “I’ve been lesbian my whole adult life and I don’t think I can be anything different,” Charlene replied. Then the minister shared her own past, which included incest, drug addiction and prostitution. The woman told Charlene that feelings of unworthiness were from the devil. “I know you want to come back to Christ, Charlene,” the woman affirmed.
Then Charlene felt God speak to her heart: Choose today whom you will serve. If you choose Me today, I have a Jeremiah 29:11 plan for your life. If you refuse me today, you can do whatever you want, but at the end of that road is judgment. The tears began to pour down her cheeks. “I felt the Spirit of God on me like never before. I submitted to Him and I knew I was never going back.” Something like scales fell from her eyes and the light of Christ re-emerged. The world looked different that day.” Charlene couldn’t wait to tell someone what happened, so that same afternoon she tracked down an older woman who had known her as a girl. “Christ came into my life today,” she told the woman, who began to weep with joy.
WINTER IS BRINGING ‘KILLER’ COLD TO CHRISTIAN REFUGEES IN MIDDLE EAST
Winter cold is claiming lives among people from Iraq and Syria who fled atrocities of the Islamic State (ISIS) and other militants, indigenous Christian workers said. Among the victims was a 2-month-old girl named Layla, born to a Kurdish family from Kobani, Syria. “Please pray for us so we can do something for them” said the aid worker. A leader of a ministry in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley that runs a school for refugees near the border with Syria also reported fatal cold. “Last night a 4-year-old child died, frozen near the school,” he said. “Please pray with us for our brothers in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon who are facing very low temperatures. Please pray for the school, as well; we are closed because we cannot heat the classrooms.”
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned that winter could bring crisis conditions to up to 1 million displaced people. “Winter has disastrous effects on those living in tents and uncovered buildings,” said the director of a ministry working in refugee camps in Northern Iraq. “Lots of children are suffering from the flu. Some children and the elderly have died.” Temperatures here can drop below freezing, subjecting people with inadequate shelter and nutrition to many health risks. Some people cannot move from tents into buildings due to unavailability and high rent costs. Those that can often end up in buildings that do not have heating or panes in their windows, and they are overcrowded.
“Up to 20 families are living together in one house” he said. “The chronically ill are most affected.” Iraq has 1.9 million Internally Displaced People (IDPs), as well as thousands of refugees from Syria, with more arriving every day. The UNHCR estimates about 800,000 people in Iraq are in need of shelter assistance and 940,000 lack basic items to withstand winter cold; it expects to be able to attend to less than a quarter of those affected. There is much pain and suffering. At a refugee camp for 4,000 people in Turkey, near the Syrian border, another ministry director found children wearing sandals in the frigid temperatures. “We bought shoes with what money we brought with us,” he said.
“Displaced Iraqis want to return home but that is not possible as long as ISIS controls the areas which had large Christian populations. The afflictions have deepened their faith, he said. One lady said. “We are ready to die for our Christianity.” One pastor said Christians who do not practice the faith have had a tougher time dealing with hardship. “It is difficult being persecuted for being a Christian in name, but not knowing Jesus,” the pastor said. “Those people are suffering a lot.” Practicing Christians, by contrast, have seen their faith grow. One Pastor said people had told him, ‘You preached that God as a Father takes care of His kids, but now we are living it. Today we have trust in the Lord more than ever. The Lord did not leave us.”
VATICAN TACKLES AUTISM AS FAMILIES SEEK HOPE AND SUPPORT
Michele and Vinny Arbogast of New York were devastated when their son Kyle was diagnosed with autism as a toddler 10 years ago. “Autism turns your world upside down,” Michele said. “It affects every member of the family.” An estimated 70 million people are affected by the disorder worldwide. Kyle, and his family recently attended the first global gathering on autism hosted by the Vatican in Rome. More than 650 experts from 57 countries came together for the 3 day conference organized by the Vatican to discuss diagnosis, treatment, research and support for families. Pope Francis, who is known for his compassion for the disabled, addressed the final session.
Michele Arbogast hopes the Pope can help raise autism awareness especially in poorer nations. “Pope Francis has changed the dynamics by reaching out to those in need,” said Arbogast, who works for the New-York based Autism Speaks foundation. “Words from the Pope will reach the smallest villages, touch hearts, change minds and help people to volunteer and help other families.” Former General Electric CEO Bob Wright and his wife, Suzanne, established the Autism Speaks foundation in 2005 after their grandson Christian was diagnosed with autism. “It is critical for faith institutions to embrace those affected by autism and lend their support in raising awareness of the disorder worldwide,” said Wright.
“There is no cure for autism, no known causes and no approved treatment of its core symptoms,” Suzanne Wright said. “Families struggle to receive basic services, and parents can barely afford the cost of treatments and therapy for their children. The Wrights’ foundation has invested more than $500 million in science and medical research, through a Global Autism Public Health Initiative in more than 60 countries. It has also been driving reform in the U.S. where 38 states have passed autism insurance reform and more than $3 billion in new federal funding for research has been dedicated by Congress. “We must now turn our attention to the rest of world to raise global awareness of autism,” said Bob Wright.
EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR AN OVERHAUL OF ISLAMIC TEACHING
Egyptian President Al-Sisi delivered a ground-breaking speech at Al-Azhar University in which he stated: “We need to revolutionize our religion.” Calling for “religious discourse that is in keeping with the times,” Al-Sisi warned that “Islam is being torn apart and destroyed” by extremism. Al-Sisi has been combating Islamic terrorism within his borders and views terror organizations linked to Islamic State (IS) or Hamas as a threat to Egypt’s existence. Al-Sisi stated that “we must take a long, hard look at the situation we are in. It is inconceivable that the ideology we sanctify should make our entire nation a source of concern, danger, and destruction all over the world.” Al-Sisi admits that changing this ideology is not an easy process.
“I am referring not to religion, but to ideology – the body of ideas and texts that we have sanctified in the course of centuries, to the point that challenging them has become very difficult,” Al-Sisi explained. “It has reached the point that this ideology is hostile to the entire world. Is it conceivable that 1.6 billion Muslims would kill the world’s population of seven billion, so that they could live on their own. This is inconceivable,” al-Sisi declared. “I say these things here before religious clerics and scholars. You cannot see things clearly when you are locked into this ideology. You must look at it from the outside, in order to get closer to a truly enlightened ideology. You must oppose it with resolve.” He said.
Al-Azhar, founded more than a thousand years ago is the chief centre of Arabic literature and Islamic study in the world and has a great influence on Islam worldwide. However not all Islamic leaders agree with the view put forward by President Al-Sisi. For instance, Mostafa Al-Adwy, an Egyptian cleric, said that the Charlie Hebdo massacre was a punishment by Allah against those poking fun at the prophet Mohammed. “Even though the whole world is crying about what happened to them, we are happy…” “People mocked the prophets of Allah, but the mockers were punished by Allah for their mockery. We are happy that Allah wreaked vengeance upon the mockers of our prophet Muhammad.”
CHURCHES BURNED DOWN OVER ANTI-CHARLIE HEBDO DEMONSTRATION IN NIGER
At least 5 churches were burned down by hundreds of Islamist demonstrators angered by a cartoon published by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. Following Friday prayers hundreds of people marched around the city of Ziner in south-east Niger shouting ‘’Allah Akbar’’ (God is great) and attacked and set fire to most of the Churches in the city located about 1000 km from the capital of Niger. The protesters looted and ransacked properties belonging to members of the Christian community throughout the city. Several public buildings and properties were also set afire, among them the French cultural centre, the headquarters of the ruling party and several bars. Security forces fired tear gas in an attempt to restore order.
“We have never seen that before in Zinder,” a local source said. According to local sources, at least 9 people were killed, among them a member of the security force caught up by the protesters, but there has been no official confirmation. The President of Niger, recently attended the Paris anti-terror march along with the Archbishop of Niger, and the Head of the Islamic Council of Niger. Even so, the government has condemned the latest Charlie Hebdo illustration, which depicts a weeping prophet Mohammad, and has banned publication of the magazine in Niger. Niger is a secular country known for peaceful relations among religious communities. The vast majority of its 17 million inhabitants are Muslim.
The country has witnessed the emergence of radical Islamist groups since the advent of democratic pluralism in the 1990s, and the Christian minority is often targeted by Islamists. In September 2012, the main Catholic cathedral and two evangelical churches were ransacked in the same city of Zinder, following a demonstration over the U.S. film “The Innocence of the Muslims.” Similar attacks targeting Christian properties took place in southern Nigeria in 1998 and 2000. Located in West Africa, Niger is facing a growing Islamist threat notably by the Nigerian radical group Boko Haram in the south and other groups linked to Al Qaeda which are active in Niger’s western neighbour, Mali, and northern neighbour, Libya.