Suicide Bomb in Syria’s Christian Center Targeted ‘Belligerent Christians’

Qamishli

Last week’s suicide bombing outside an Orthodox Church in Qamishli, regarded as the Christian center of Syria, underscores the region’s volatility and the ongoing threat to Christians. At least 11 people were injured Thursday when a car bomb detonated outside the Virgin Mary Syriac Orthodox Church in Qamishli, along Syria’s northeast border with Turkey.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombing, which dented the church’s front gate but didn’t damage the building. Intercepted communications indicate the terrorists were targeting a group of “belligerent Christians.”

Ignatius Aphrem II, the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, condemned the bombing, tweeting that the “blast creates an atmosphere of anxiety and chaos, yet Christians should remain in their historical homeland.”

Researcher Joan Garcia says the bombing was the eleventh attack in eleven days in Hasakah province and the fourth in a month in Qamishli, which “has for some years been secure from ISIS attacks.” Although Christians are a minority in that city, she says, they exist “peacefully alongside Arab and Kurdish communities.”

“Pray for my people, please”

The church attack shows that Christians are still a key ISIS target in war-torn Syria, say experts. Abdulkarim Omar, an official with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), says ISIS “has a large number of sleeper cells that can wage deadly attacks against civilians in our area, particularly Christians and other minorities.”

Many Christians have aligned themselves with the SDF, which declared victory over ISIS in March. But as one Syrian whose relative was injured in Thursday’s attack says, “No matter how stable the situation here gets, we always fear that [ISIS] and other terrorist groups are always prepared to attack us.”

Another Christian in Qamishli tweeted: “I hope for a day where I never hear of news like this again. Pray for my people please.” Later, she posted photos of local youth cleaning up the church. “Those who try to hurt us know little of suffering,” she wrote, “and our people will not surrender our faith or our land to evildoers.”

In Syria, Christians Are “in the crosshairs”

Because it’s near the Turkish border, Qamishli became home for Assyrian Christians fleeing genocide by the Ottomans in 1915. But Syria’s eight-year-long civil war has forced many believers to leave. According to International Christian Concern (ICC), many Christian refugees now think returning to Syria is too dangerous. “Our children are oppressed,” says one refugee. “They prefer to stay away from the problems and the risk.”

ICC regional manager Claire Evans says prayers are going out to everyone affected by the bombing. “This kind of attack serves as a reminder for all Syrian Christians on just how much work needs to be done to protect their lives and their rights,” she says. “The Syrian conflict is constantly evolving, and Christians are always left in the crosshairs of opposing factions. We must work to ensure that any solution to the conflict preserves a place for Christians in society.”

Christian activist Malek Hanna urges international support: “Religious and political leaders must come together and make the protection of our defenseless people their ultimate objective.”

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Stephanie Martin
Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 26 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her husband and two teenage daughters.