Issue 5, Article 18, 18 May 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.

Thursday 18 May 2000

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

The Fellowship of the Lord's People, an Assemblies of God Church in the
Kosovan capital Prishtina, was raided by self-proclaimed Islamic militants in
the early hours of 29 April. The robbers, who claimed to represent the Kosovo
branch of an organisation linked to Saudi Islamic Osama bin Laden, threatened
the occupants with guns during a two-hour raid and stole a considerable sum of
money, a computer and other valuable items of equipment. They daubed the
door and the walls of the church building with Islamic slogans.

The United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) police force has primary
responsibility for law and order in the Prishtina region and its officers visited
the incident, but an UNMIK representative told Keston News Service from
Prishtina that so far they are only looking at the raid `from a criminal aspect'.
However, he promised that all three raids the church has endured over the past
year would be reviewed.

The overwhelming majority of Kosovo's Albanian population is of Muslim
background, though some Albanians are Christians (mostly Catholic, with a
small number of Protestants). The vast majority of the Serbs that remain in
Kosovo are of Serbian Orthodox background.

`On Friday after the Teenager's Meeting, four of us where sleeping at the house
of the Church,' the pastor ARTUR KRASNIQI and his brother DRITON
reported. `Around 2 am "someone" rang the bell and Louis (a fellow believer
and missionary from Times Square Church, New York) went to look who it
was and three gunmen with masks pointed the gun on him and entered the
house by tying Louis' hands, mouth, eyes and legs.' The intruders then woke
KRESHNIK MORINA, a 14 year-old church member, and threatened him with
a gun. Artur Krasniqi heard the gunmen call on Morina at gunpoint to renounce
Christianity in favour of Islam, but the boy refused.

`I was in bed when I heard the noise and straight after, a gunman came to my
head, same thing to Driton. They said they would kill two others if we even
moved. �Islamic, Islamic, Islamic,� they said in poor English. After that six of
them came in with their guns and masks on their faces. �We represent Bin
Laden's Organisation for Kosova,� they told us. They really wanted to kill us
after I refused to give them any information about the money. After two hours
they left, taking many things and left us tied on the floor hardly breathing. We
don't know when they left but we couldn't believe that we were alive.' The
intruders had daubed Islamic slogans on the walls, such as `Kosova Islamic
Country' and `OBL', a reference to Osama bin Laden.

Krasniqi reported that the UNMIK police arrived an hour after the intruders
had left and, according to Krasniqi, did little to help them despite their being
`very traumatised'. However, representatives from the peacekeeping Kosovo
Force (KFOR) have shown interest, and KFOR representatives attended a
meeting at the church on 9 May. `The British KFOR is trying to do something
investigating this crime,' Artur Krasniqi declared. `There have been no results
yet, even though they have some information already. From UN so far nothing.
"Defend yourself" was the reply of some UNMIK policemen.'

A spokesman for the UNMIK police in Prishtina region, CHARLEY
JOHNSON, confirmed that UNMIK had attended the church in the wake of the
raid. `The incident has been listed not as an ethnic crime, but one of robbery
and vandalism,' Johnson told Keston from Prishtina on 16 May. `The UNMIK
police are looking at it from a criminal aspect. We have not developed any
suspects as yet.' Johnson pointed out two elements in this raid. `Firstly, other
independent Christian structures are few and far between. Secondly, this church
is located in a busy residential and commercial area. It is quite possible for
people to gain access to the courtyard and then to be unnoticed.'

After talking to one of the UNMIK officers that had visited the church, Johnson
confirmed to Keston that the officer had told the church members that they
would have to protect themselves, but felt that the statement might have been
taken out of context. `The officer stated that because of manpower shortages
they would not be able to put a continual surveillance on the church or provide
much in the way of additional patrols. He did indicate to them that they needed
to take steps to encourage their own defence.'

Johnson told Keston that UNMIK police have `no leads' that Islamic militants
were behind the raid and speculation continues over their identity. Krasniqi
reported: `One of the thieves spoke some words in Serbian, but mostly they
spoke English.' Johnson pledged that all three incidents involving the church
would be revisited by investigators.

`The local newspapers and radio have given a lot of attention to this. Almost
every daily newspaper wrote a long article on this on the very front pages,'
Krasniqi declared (although the 1 May issue of the Albanian-language
newspaper Koha Ditore wrongly reported that it had been the Baptist church in
Prishtina which had been raided).

Krasniqi notes that this raid - the third since the end of fighting and the
withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo in June last year - was the worst so
far. The church has appealed to the European Union and the United States
government for measures to be taken to prevent further such raids. Krasniqi is
also seeking money to install gates, metal bars over the windows and an alarm
system to try to deter further attacks.

Krasniqi fears for the future. `We are considering this as the beginning of the
future hard persecution against Christians in the country. Long is the list of
believers who in one way or another are facing persecution. Many are
anonymous phone calls to our Church that they are going to kill us all, and
burn this Church down. The monthly Islamic magazine "Dituria Islame"
(Islamic Knowledge) publishes at least one article against our Church in each
issue. They never forget to mention that in Kosova lots and lots of money is
poured in, so this is a kind of inspiration for the criminals to attack Christians
with the assurance they will find money.' However, Krasniqi pledges that the
work of his church will continue.

Other Protestant leaders have told Keston that attacks have occurred on their
places of worship in other areas of Kosovo. BEKIM BEKA, pastor of the New
Hope Baptist Church in Prishtina, told Keston on 10 May that one such
incident had taken place in the Italian sector in south western Kosovo. `There is
a huge campaign against Evangelical Christians in Kosovo,' he claimed.

`Attacks on religious buildings are not rare, but are not exceptionally
prevalent,' Johnson of UNMIK told Keston. `The primary targets have been
Serbian Orthodox churches.' (END)