MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Islamists began demolishing an old Roman Catholic church in southern Somalia on Tuesday to replace it with a mosque, and vowed to do the same with all other non-Muslim places of worship they find in the area.
The act — and the threat — were the latest show of strength by the growing Islamic insurgency in and around the southern port of Kismayo. Somalia’s third-largest city has been in the control of al-Shabab, a powerful Islamist faction, since August.
Sheik Hassan Yakob Ali, a spokesman for al-Shabab, said the city’s residents had knocked down a wall of the century-old Italian church, which has not been used for at least 18 years. No one was hurt in the demolition, Ali said.
He said the city administration will finish the demolition job over the next few days and replace the building with a mosque.
“We have demolished a Christian church,” Ali told The Associated Press. “And we’ll replace it with an Islamic mosque. We will demolish all similar Christian cathedrals and other places of worship for Christians, Buddhists and other religions.”
Somalia is a mostly Sunni Muslim country, but it still contains a series of old Catholic churches that are a legacy of its colonial past under Italy. There are no known Buddhist temples in Somalia.
Tuesday’s demolition was scheduled to coincide with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. But it was not the only, or the most violent, attack against the Catholic Church in Somalia.
In 2006, gunmen in Mogadishu shot and killed a 65-year-old Italian nun and her bodyguard. In 1989, the Bishop of Mogadishu, Pietro Salvatore Colombo, was killed at his cathedral in the Somali capital. After the bishop’s assassination, the Vatican eliminated the post and now oversees Somalia through neighboring Djibouti….
You might notice there was no mention of the status of the Mogadishu Cathedral. That was destroyed in 1992.