Tajikistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs continues to hold three members of the Sonmin Grace Church for interrogation after a fatal bombing in their church 10 days ago, a source in Dushanbe confirmed late last night.
The powerful double explosion during Sunday worship on October 1 killed at least 10 Christians and hospitalized 39 more. Seven members are still in critical condition.
Hours after the blasts left the three-story church complex in shambles, Tajik authorities detained 12 church leaders, holding them overnight Sunday for questioning. Although reportedly eight were released by the following evening, several other church members were arrested the next day.
"Among those (who were) being held in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were two who are injured but have been denied access to any medical assistance," one contact in Dushanbe reported. "Women (were) among those detained."
The detained Christians were "all church members and servants, and are said by the government to be the leading suspects," another Dushanbe source said.
Although all but two of the Christians had been released by October 9, the number of confirmed detainees rose to three yesterday. The identity of the Christians still under arrest could not be confirmed.
Released church leaders said they were questioned about the actual bombing incident, as to where they had been when it happened, and whether they had seen anything suspicious that day. But they were also interrogated about how and why they had become believers in Jesus, and what plans they had to evangelize others, they said. None of the first eight released reported being beaten.
Under the laws of Tajikistan, anyone put under formal detention must be released after three days, or arrested on specific charges. To date, none of the church leaders arrested for questioning are known to have been charged.
According to a message faxed in Korean out of Dushanbe and obtained by Compass, during the offertory of the Sunday morning service October 1,"some stranger came in and left a bag in one of the pews." When the bomb hidden in the bag exploded, the fax said, "the roof came down." A second bomb was timed to go off on the first floor as people tried to flee the building.
Local sources confirmed that the church had been subjected to a number of recent threats, including a letter threatening to kill the pastor and disturb the church services.
Pastor Yun Seop Choi, who was abroad when the fatal bombing occurred, returned to Tajikistan to be reunited with his congregation on October 6.
"Many wept as he walked into the room," one source commented. "It is obvious these folks love and respect their pastor."
Permission was granted the same day for former residents to enter the bombed area, where several dozen members of the church had lived together in community. Various groups in the city reportedly took up collections this past weekend to provide food, clothing and other assistance to these families. The Tajik authorities did not allow entrance into the church building itself until October 9.
The list of victims from the bombing ranged in age from 21 to 60, including men and women of Tajik, Tatar-Tajik, Korean-Tajik and Russian backgrounds.
Tajik authorities have restricted access to hospitalized victims of the attack.
Seven severely injured survivors were still listed in critical condition, including two who had sustained burns over two-thirds of their bodies, one 70-year-old lady suffering from cerebral contusion and one believer who had been blinded in both eyes.
"They've taken some patients to the police hospital to protect them," one local source noted. Reportedly, authorities fear that if the attackers learn that certain people survived the bombing, they might try to come and kill them in their hospital beds.
Copyright © 2000 Compass Direct
Read "Deaths in Tajikistan Church Blasts Rise to 7" from the Oct. 2 edition of the People's Daily.
The BBC also ran a story, "Seven dead in Tajikistan church bombing."
Copyright © 2000 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
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