Muslim Men Attack Somali Church Leader in Ethiopia

Two Somali Muslim men attacked a well-known Somali church leader in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa over the weekend, according to a Washington-based Christian human rights group.

After being informed about the Aug. 21 attack, International Christian Concern spoke with the victim, Mohamed Ali Garas, who is currently being treated at Meghbar Senai Hospital in the Shola neighborhood of Addis Ababa.

According to his account, Garas was returning home around 9 p.m. when two Somali Muslim men called his name. Garas, a convert from Islam, went to meet them and was struck on the head by one of the men with a wooden club. After Garas fell to the ground, the two men beat him, kicking him in the chest and stomach.

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When an Ethiopian neighbor arrived at the scene, the Muslim men fled.

According to ICC, Garas' kneecap seems to be damaged and he will undergo more exams and x-rays to find out the extent of his injuries.

Garas told ICC that the attackers purposefully hit him on his right leg, apparently knowing that he had broken his right thigh bone seven years ago in an accident. His broken bone has been healing for the last three years since he had reconstructive surgery.

Garas had fled to Ethiopia from Somaliland in August 2005 after authorities there attempted to arrest him. At the time, Garas was reportedly the most visible church leader in Somaliland.

Less than a month ago, the former Muslim moved to a new neighborhood in Addis Ababa because Somali Muslim men had threatened to physically attack him in his old neighborhood.

The Somali pastor described Saturday's attack as "an apparent attempt to scar the Somali Christian community in Addis Ababa who consider Ethiopia a safe haven from religious persecution."

Following the attack, Jonathan Racho, ICC's Regional Manager for Africa, expressed his group's concern over the attacks that Somali Christians in general face in Ethiopia.

"The Somali Christians fled to Ethiopia seeking protection," he noted. "We urge the officials of Ethiopia to protect Somali Christians against the attacks by Somali Muslims."

According to ICC, Somalia Christians living in Ethiopia, including those living the capital city, are coming under increased attack from Somali Muslims.

On July 16, five Somali Muslims beat a Somali Christian convert in Addis Ababa. Also, on Sept. 20, 2008 Muslims beat a 35-year-old Somali Christian leader.

In its 2009 report on international religious freedom, the U.S. State Department noted how localized tensions between Muslim and Christian communities resulted in some violent episodes.

It said the government generally respected religious freedom in practice but local authorities, on occasion, infringed on this right.

Notably, Christians make up 60.8 percent of Ethiopia's population while Muslims make up 32.8 percent.

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