Posted GMT 6-5-2007
Al-Qaeda has issued a death threat to Christian converts in Kurdistan the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports.
"We are hunting those who have converted to Christianity or Zoroastrianism as we consider them renegades and God's punishment must be implemented by killing them," the Islamist terrorist group said in a statement released on the internet on April 22.
Al-Qaeda urged Kurds to join the "Mujahedin and hoist the jihad flag against the crusaders who are occupying Iraq, instead of supporting them."
"We are not afraid of them; in fact, they are welcome if they want to kill us," Sabeer Ahmed told the UN's IRIN news agency. A member of the evangelical Christ Church in Pishdar in the Sulaimaniyah Province, Ahmed converted to Christianity seven months ago. "We will be happy to be martyrs when we sacrifice ourselves for our religion," he said.
The leader of Iraq's Roman Catholics, the Patriarch for the Chaldeans Emmanuel III Delly earlier this month protested the attacks upon Christians in the country. In a statement released on the Patriarchate's website, Emmanuel stated "Christians are killed, chased out of their homes before the very eyes of those who are supposed to be responsible for their safety."
"Today, Christians are persecuted in a country where everyone is fighting for their own personal interests," he said on May 6.
Muslim elders in the northern Iraqi town of Sulaimaniyah told IRIN they believed the conversions to Christianity by Kurdish young people were economically motivated.
Christian missionaries had been "exploiting the harsh economic situation" in the region Sheikh Hassan Abdullah, a tribal elder told IRIN. Becoming a Christian was seen as a ticket out of Iraq for unemployed Kurds, who if they converted "can say that they are threatened and need a safe haven," Abdullah said.
However a Roman Catholic priest in Sulaimaniyah told IRIN financial gain does not motivate a Muslim to accept Christianity. "Those youths reached their decision after having become fully convinced about what Christianity teaches. They believe in Christ and nothing else and we're sure of that," the priest said.
In the past year approximately 500 Muslim Kurds had converted to Christianity, said Ahmed. The threats from Al Qaeda will not deter Christian evangelism he said.
By George Conger