Christian Converts from Islam Slain in Yemen

Yemen Mosque Credit Anas Alhajj-compressed
Photo Credit: Anas Alhajj

ISTANBUL, Turkey (Morning Star News) Two Christians in Yemen, both converts from Islam, have been ambushed and killed because of their faith, according to sources close to the victims.

In Taiz, a city with a pre-war population of 600,000 people in southwest Yemen, at least one member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) ambushed a Christian man in the city and shot him 15 to 20 times in early September. A second Christian was shot once in his home on Oct. 2, sources said. The second victim may have been killed by a Muslim extremist group or by members of his own family, they said.

Due to security threats in Yemen, a 99.9-percent Muslim country ruled by sharia (Islamic law) and embroiled in a civil war, the names of the victims and the sources cannot be released.

Both men were openly confessing Christ. A Yemeni friend of the second Christian said the convert was involved in evangelism, though he tried to keep his activities low key.

The friend said the second Christian killed, who was in his late 30s or early 40s, was not involved in any other activities that could have led to his death. Others who knew the convert from Islam said Muslims were harassing and threatening him.

“A lot of people didn’t like that he was a convert,” the friend said. “I think it is because of his faith; there is no other reason [to kill him].”

Authorities have made no arrests in the killing. Since March of this year, when civil war started, Yemen has become a dysfunctional, lawless state where “people are killed for numerous reasons,” the friend said. A teenage convert from Islam, for example, was killed recently when an errant, shoulder-fired rocket known as an RPG exploded near him.

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The most recent shooting victim is survived by a wife and a teenage son. It was unclear how the two were coping, but the victim’s friend said the deaths have alarmed the convert community in Taiz. In addition to the Muslim harassment, the victim’s house had also been set on fire at least once.

“The people that knew him are afraid, especially because he is the second one,” the friend said. “People that knew him well, they’re afraid, they’re shocked; they know that he was killed for his faith. But people that don’t, many of them think he was killed in the general unrest.”

The friend said the second Christian convert’s family likely felt publically shamed by his decision to follow Christ. Family influence in Yemen cannot be overstated, he said. The family structure in Yemen and in much of the Middle East works to enforce societal norms, especially adherence to Islam.

“In our culture, it is different than in other countries, because in our country the tribe rules, not the government,” he said. “If you have a problem with your family, nobody can save you. If you have a problem with the government, your family or your tribe can save you from the government.

“You have to be careful and not start any problems with your tribe or family, because it will be difficult.”

The friend said he was hurt by the loss, especially because of the senseless nature of the killing.

“I feel sad,” he said. “I feel sad from two sides – I know him personally, and because I don’t understand why this happened. There is no reason for it.”

Al Qaeda

A source close to the Christian slain first said a member of AQAP was responsible.

“For six months he had been receiving direct threats from known AQAP members that he knew personally,” the source said. “There is no reason to believe that his family was involved in the killing. His family knew of his faith for more than a decade, and although it created tensions, they never threatened his life.”

The friend of the second Christian killed said he remembered the convert as someone with a superb sense of humor who loved to play the Oud, a classical instrument in Middle Eastern music. He wanted to take on the world for God and was preparing himself to do it, his friend said.

This desire cost him his life, but his friend hopes God will turn the death into an opportunity.

“He had a plan and a vision to do something,” his friend said. “We have hope God can give these people light to see what they did. I feel these people [the shooters] will want more of the gospel and to know more about God.”

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