Protestant Church Burned in Algeria

By: Aomar Ouali - AP Writer
By: Aomar Ouali - AP Writer

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) - Islamists looted and burned a Protestant
church in Algeria, the congregation's leader said Monday,
suggesting they were inspired by a recent spate of religious
intolerance in the Arab and Muslim world.

The church - hosted in an apartment block in the city of Tizi
Ouzou some 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Algiers, the Algerian
capital - was ransacked and set ablaze on Saturday night, several
Algerian newspapers said.

The independent El Watan daily published a picture of a
smoldering pile of pulpits and desks that had been brought outside
for destruction. It quoted the pastor of the local Pentecostal
community, Mustapha Krireche, as saying worshippers fled the temple
because local police had left a gathering of anti-Christian rioters
unchecked.

The congregation was worshipping in the apartment block because
it had not received official government approval to operate a
church.

Mustapha Krim, the head of the Algerian Protestant Church
association, said in a telephone interview with The Associated
Press on Monday that looters also set fire to a pile of Bibles and
religious textbooks, and desecrated Christian crosses.

He said the looting showed "Islamist intolerance considers
there is no room for Christian religious practices in Algeria,"
and alleged it was "fueled by what just happened in Egypt," where
six people were killed in a church shooting during Christmas
celebrations. In mainly Muslim Malaysia, nine churches have been
attacked recently - the assailants used firebombs and in one case,
paint - amid violence against the country's Christian minority.

The Protestant Church in Algeria filed five separate complaints
for arson and looting with local authorities, Krim said Monday.

"Authorities don't want to get involved because they're worried
of getting in trouble with the Islamists," Krim said.

There was no official comment from Algeria's government on the
church looting. A senior police officer in the town of Tizi Ouzou
confirmed the police hadn't intervened, despite the complaints. He
said authorities couldn't intervene because the church hadn't been
authorized as a place of worship.

"What happened is appalling, but the apartment wasn't an
authorized house to practice a religion," the police officer said,
requesting anonymity because Algerian law bars security forces from
talking to the media.

The officer said local authorities had ordered the church to
shut down in November because the apartment hadn't received
approval to function as a place of worship.

The officer denied police were caving in to Islamist pressure,
pointing out that security forces regularly battle Islamist
militants in the mountains around Tizi Ouzou, considered the
stronghold of the local al-Qaida offshoot.

Krim said the 300 Pentecostal practitioners in the area used the
apartment because authorities had refused to provide them with
another venue.

An overwhelmingly Muslim nation where Islam is the religion of
state, Algeria allows the practice of other faiths in authorized
venues. A few Roman Catholic churches are still open, left over
from the French colonial era.

But 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 converting people to Christianity.

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.


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