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By Gul Yousafzai and Augustinus Beo Da Costa
QUETTA, Pakistan/JAKARTA (Reuters)

Christmas church services and other celebrations are being held this weekend under the gaze of armed guards and security cameras in many countries after Islamic State gunmen attacked a Methodist church in Pakistan as a Sunday service began

Majority-Muslim countries in Asia and the Middle East were particularly nervous after U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent announcement he intends to relocate the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a decision that has outraged many Muslims.

In Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, police said they had stepped up security around churches and tourist sites, mindful of near-simultaneous attacks on churches there at Christmas in 2000 that killed about 20 people.

 

Members of the Hungarian counter-terrorism unit TEK patrol the Christmas market area in Budapest
Members of the Hungarian counter-terrorism unit TEK patrol the Christmas market area in Budapest, Hungary, December 22, 2017. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

 

Muslim volunteers in Indonesia are also on standby to provide additional security if requested.

“If our brother and sisters who celebrate Christmas need … to maintain their security to worship, we will help,” said Yaqut Chiolil Qoumas, chairman of the youth wing of the Nahdlatul Ulema, one of the country’s biggest Muslim organisations.

In Cairo, where a bombing at the Egyptian capital’s largest Coptic cathedral killed at least 25 people last December, the interior ministry said police would conduct regular searches of streets around churches ahead of the Coptic celebration of Christmas on Jan. 7.

 

 

Egypt’s Christian minority has been targeted in several attacks in recent years, including the bombing of two churches in the north of the country on Palm Sunday in April.

At the Heliopolis Basilica, a Catholic cathedral in northeastern Cairo, security forces had set up metal detectors at the main doors and police vehicles were stationed outside ahead of masses on Dec. 25, which marks Christmas Day for Catholic and Protestant Christians.

German police brought in experts and an explosives robot to investigate a suspicious package at a Christmas market in the city of Bonn late on Friday.

Germany is on high alert a year after a failed Tunisian asylum seeker killed 12 people when he hijacked a truck and drove it into a Berlin Christmas market.

 

BOMBED-OUT CHURCH

In the Pakistani city of Quetta, members of a Bethel Memorial Methodist Church were repairing the damage done by a pair of suicide bombers who attacked during a service last Sunday, killing 10 people and wounding more than 50.

 

A policeman keeps guard outside St. John Cathedral Church ahead of the Christmas celebrations in Peshawar
A policeman keeps guard outside St. John Cathedral Church ahead of the Christmas celebrations in Peshawar, Pakistan, December 21, 2017. Picture taken December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

 

Broken pews and damaged musical instruments were still strewn around church grounds on Thursday, with about a dozen police standing guard.

“We’re making efforts to complete repairs and renovation before Christmas, but it seems difficult in view of the lot of damage,” said Pastor Simon Bashir, who was leading the service when the attackers struck. He was not hurt.

 

Keep reading …¬†

 

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