Violent attacks against Christians by Muslim extremists in Syria have increased as the byproduct of the country’s volatile political situation, much like what has transpired in Egypt, said a persecution watchdog this week.
Open Doors International officials say that while much of the world’s attention is focused on the Egyptian elections and American troops withdrawing from Iraq, the situation inside Syria is getting worse, especially for Christians.
“Christians inside Syria are caught in the crossfire as they are in many other Middle Eastern countries,” said Open Doors president and CEO Dr. Carl Moeller. “Until the protests started against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the Christian community enjoyed some protection. Now they are afraid of the future. Will they have to flee their country like Iraqi Christians have done over the last several years?”
Paul Estabrooks, communication specialist for the international organization, told The Christian Post that the group’s workers in Syria have reported various atrocities, including the kidnapping of two Christian women who entered taxi cabs driven by Muslim fundamentalists.
The fundamentalist Muslim taxi drivers in Syria have made a vow that they will harm all women taking their taxis who are unveiled, according to Open Doors.
“These women, mostly less orthodox Muslims and Christians, are being kidnapped, raped or even killed,” said the field worker. “Some months ago two Christian women were kidnapped. One managed to jump out of the driving car, but the other was taken. That woman remains missing. This didn’t happen in a remote area of the country but in the capital of Damascus. For women the situation is unsafe now. People still go on with their daily routine, but with more caution.”
Estabrooks said the taxi driver incidents are not the only examples of Christian persecution by Muslim extremists.
“In areas where the military pulls out, Muslim extremists move in and take over. It’s almost a direct kind of takeover in these areas,” Estabrooks said. “When one authority leaves the other moves in and absorbs that position.
“There have been threats against Christians. They’ve attacked and even robbed churches, although no one is saying that it is was the Muslim extremists that have robbed the churches. The violence that happens when the military leaves is possibly from a variety of sources,” he explained.
However, the examples of attacks given by Open Doors were allegedly perpetrated by Muslim extremists.
“Christians in Syria are very worried for their country,” Estabrooks said. “All through the Arab world, frankly, the Arab Spring has become the Arab Winter for most Christians.”
“Immigration [to another country] is a top discussion item among people in Syria right now,” he said.
As the result of months of protests and violence against the government of al-Assad, Syria is on the brink of civil war, though al-Assad has denied that to ABC’s Barbara Walters. Open Doors reports that thousands of protesters have been killed. The country has been sanctioned for an international boycott and the central government is losing control.
“Criminals, but also radical Muslims, are taking advantage of that lawlessness,” said another field worker for Open Doors. “In the city of Homs, for example, the Sunni Muslims gained power on the streets when the government pulled out its troops for a few days. Some of the radical elements in this group have raided several churches. They robbed the churches of their most valuable things.”
Syria has a population of more than 20 million, of which about 1.5 million Syrians are Christians, according to Open Doors. There are also 100,000 Iraqi Christians that fled to Syria because of persecution in their own country.
Estabrooks told CP that Christians in Syria had previously enjoyed a relatively public presence in churches allowed to exist under the past dictatorship. The situation is now much less clear, he said. Estabrooks and Moeller are asking Christians to pray for the situation in Syria.
Open Doors continues to help the local churches in Syria. “We deliver Christian literature and provide leadership training. We also support Iraqi Christians that found refuge in the country,” says an Open Doors worker.