Somali extremists' toll reaches 13

WASHINGTON (BP) — A 13th Christian leader in Somalia has been killed by Islamic extremists, according to the Washington-based human rights organization International Christian Concern.

Ali Hussein Weheliye, pastor of an underground church in Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, was returning home from a worship service Oct. 10 when he was ambushed and shot by two masked men that ICC described in a news release as members of al-Shabab, an insurgent Muslim group that has risen to prominence in recent months.

"The Islamists left the pastor for dead," ICC reported, recounting that Weheliye was taken to a hospital where he died of his wounds on Oct. 20.

"Ali converted from Islam to Christianity in 1999 while working in Somalia's capital as a linguist. In 2002, he started pastoring an underground house church," ICC stated.

"He is survived by his wife and a daughter who are now in hiding fearing for their lives."

Al-Shabab, a rebel group linked to al-Qaida that has taken over large parts of Somalia, has "declared Somalia as an Islamic state, vowing to eradicate Christians," ICC stated, listing Weheliye as the 13th Christian leader killed so far this year. A number of Christian workers have been beheaded and a number of Christians have fled the country due to the intense persecution.

"Despite the killings by al-Shabab, the Somali church is growing rapidly," ICC noted.

"The underground church in Somalia is enduring untold suffering," said Jonathan Racho, ICC's regional manager for Africa and south Asia. "Al-Shabab and other Islamic extremist groups are hunting down and killing Christians. By killing Christians, the Islamic extremists have repeatedly demonstrated utter disregard to human life and freedom of religion."

ICC urged Christians to "pray for God to comfort and strengthen Pastor Ali's wife and daughter. Please pray for courage and wisdom to underground churches in Somalia."

Somalia's Christians comprise less than 1 percent of the African nation's 9.8 million people.

Earlier this year, the Associated Press noted, "Punishments such as stoning, amputations and beheadings are historically rare in Somalia, which traditionally practices moderate Sufi Islam," reflected by the nation's president, Sheik Sharif Ahmed, a former religious teacher who rose to popularity in Somalia by helping rescue kidnapped children.

"But a more extremist form of jihadi Salafist Islam with its roots in Saudi Arabia has taken root during the chaotic warfare of recent years, strengthened by a recent influx of hundreds of foreign fighters," AP noted.

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