NAIROBI, Kenya (Morning Star News) – Police in Uganda have arrested two people in connection with the kidnapping of 40 Christian children lured by a Muslim posing as the leader of a Christian charity offering free education, sources said.
In Arua, in northwest Uganda’s West Nile Sub-Region, initial investigations alleged that 27-year-old Siraji Sabiri, a Muslim, had lured the children to a hotel with promises of school scholarships and was possibly planning to sell them to a rebel militant group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Police rescued 40 children from the hotel on Feb. 2.
A pastor in Arua first learned of the alleged scam from church members who told him a Christian organization was registering children for scholarships for a school in Luwero District, in central Uganda. Sabiri is a resident of Wakiso District, near Luwero.
“So parents made use of the opportunity to register for the offer of such scholarships,” said the pastor, whose name is withheld for security reasons. “On Feb. 2, an elder of mine informed me of many children from the church in a Continental Hotel in Arua town in West Nile Sub-Region. I got concerned and rang the police to check on the children, because I was not involved in the whole process.”
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Officers rushed to the hotel, where they found the children ages 5 to 16 and learned that they had been booked on a bus heading to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the pastor said. Interrogations revealed that the leader, Sabiri, was not a Christian but a Muslim.
“The man had disguised himself as a Christian, hence he was able to register over 40 children in the name of offering them bursaries, yet with the intention of selling them to the ADF [Allied Democratic Forces] in Congo,” the pastor told Morning Star News.
Alice Akello, who as city commissioner of Arua is in charge of all government forces in the district, said she was surprised to find children as young as 5 years old at the hotel and asked Sabiri where they were going.
“At first Sabiri said he was taking the children to Al-Rahman Islamic Primary and Secondary School in Bombo, Luwero District,” Akello said. “After a lengthy interrogation, it was discovered that there was no school of such a name existing.”
Akello ordered the arrest of Sabiri, who traveled about 475 kilometers (295 miles) to northwest Uganda from Wakiso District to allegedly carry out the scheme, and the recovery of the children, she said.
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Also arrested in connection with the case was Salima Geriya, a 28-year-old Muslim woman who appeared in court in Arua and was remanded to jail along with Sabiri. Charges were pending as police searched for more alleged accomplices.
Had the abduction succeeded, the pastor said, the effect on the church and local community would have been devastating.
“I appeal to the whole body of Christ in Uganda to be vigilant towards strangers who come in the name of helping children,” he said. “We thank God for rescuing our children.”
The abduction was the latest of many instances of persecution of Christians in Uganda that Morning Star News has documented.
Uganda’s constitution and other laws provide for religious freedom, including the right to propagate one’s faith and convert from one faith to another. Muslims make up no more than 12 percent of Uganda’s population, with high concentrations in eastern areas of the country.
This article originally appeared here.