By LUC VAN KEMENADE Associated Press
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia January 18, 2012 (AP)

Gunmen in Ethiopia’s arid north attacked a group of European tourists traveling in one of the world’s lowest and hottest regions, killing five, wounding two and kidnapping two, an Ethiopian official said Wednesday.

Ethiopia called the attack “an act of open terrorism” and said the gunmen came from neighboring Eritrea and attacked the tourist group before dawn on Tuesday. Three Ethiopians were also taken hostage. Eritrea denied it was involved.

Austrian, Belgian, German, Hungarian and Italian nationals were among those in the tourist group, Ethiopian Communications Minister Bereket Simon said.

Two Germans, two Hungarians and an Austrian were among the five killed, according to an Interpol report cited by the spokesman for Hungary’s prime minister. Two Belgians were seriously hurt and two Italians escaped unharmed, the report said. Two Germans were kidnapped.

Austria’s foreign ministry confirmed that an Austrian man from the province of Upper Austria was among the five dead. Germany’s foreign minister also confirmed two German deaths. Germany’s foreign minister said 12 other people were flown to safety by helicopter.

Those wounded in the attack arrived in Addis Ababa Wednesday evening, where they were met by embassy personnel. A British diplomat at the airport said it was possible one British tourist was among the group attacked.

One victim had to be moved in a wheelchair. Others covered their faces to avoid being photographed by journalists. A diplomat said that the victims did not want to make any statements to the media and said that they have had “a very hard time.”

Ethiopia offered its condolences to the families of victims and said it would “do everything possible to try and get those taken prisoner released as soon as possible,” a government statement said. “It is already clear that the attack was carried out with the direct involvement of the Eritrean Government. There is a fear that the people who have been kidnapped might be taken across the border into Eritrea.”

Ethiopia said it suspects the attack was linked to an upcoming African Union summit in Addis Ababa later this month. It said the attack shows that the international community “must now get serious about the destabilizing role of the Eritrean regime in the region.”

The tourists were visiting a volcanic region in Ethiopia’s northern Afar region, which lies below sea level and is known for its intense heat and picturesque salt flats.

Some of the tourists appeared to be traveling with Addis Ababa-based Green Land Tours and Travel, according to three people in Ethiopia’s capital, all of whom asked not to be identified because the information hadn’t yet been made public.

Green Land Tours and Travel offers a 15-day travel package to the Afar region, which include visits to watch salt extraction from salt lakes and a trek around a volcano that spouts lava pools.

Some of the tourists on the trip also appear to have been booked by a company in Germany called Diamir, which posted a statement on its website saying that it deeply regrets what happened. Diamir said it had offered the Ethiopia trip several times a year since 2006.

“Up until the current incident, Diamir had no indications that the security of guests could be in question in the region,” it said, adding that there was no German travel warning in place for Ethiopia or parts of it at the time of the incident.

Bereket said that “some groups trained and armed by the Eritrean government” attacked the tourists about 20 to 25 kilometers (12 to 15 miles) from the Eritrean border.

Eritrea’s ambassador to the African Union, Girma Asmerom, said Ethiopia’s allegations are an “absolute lie” and that the attack is an internal Ethiopian matter.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a border war from 1998 to 2000,claiming the lives of about 80,000 people. Tension between the neighboring East African countries rose last year when a U.N. report claimed that Eritrea was behind a plot to attack an African Union summit in Ethiopia.

Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Peter Launsky-Tiefenthal said there was an Austrian Foreign Ministry travel warning in effect for the region since 2007 “because of several incidents involving attacks on tourist groups … in some case politically motivated in others criminally motivated.”

In 2007, five Europeans and 13 Ethiopians were kidnapped in Afar. Ethiopia accused Eritrea of masterminding that kidnapping, but Eritrea blamed an Ethiopian rebel group. All of those hostages were released, though some of the Ethiopians were held for more than a month.

In 2008, Ethiopia foiled a kidnapping attempt on a group of 28 French tourists in the area.

“The problem is, there is no infrastructure in the area, no telephone lines, satellite phones barely work,” Launsky-Tiefenthal said, comparing the remote area to “the surface of Mars.”

Ethiopia Faces Threat from Wahabi Muslim ExtremistsMONDAY, 10 OCTOBER 2011 04:12 NEWBUSINESSETHIOPIA.COM
By Andualem Sisay

Wahabi Muslim extremists in Ethiopia are being engaged in underground violence and unrest instigation activities by abusing the freedom of religion and faith guaranteed by the constitution says, Ethiopian government official.

“We are not against their doctrine; what they are doing by organizing themselves underground is a crime against the constitution,” said Shiferaw Teklemariam, Minister of Federal Affairs.

The minister made the remark at a daylong workshop prepared for local journalists and public relation officers of the government at the Federal Police Headquarter here in Addis Ababa over the weekend. 

Wahabi Muslim extremists have been invading mosques in the country with causing violence that resulted in death and injuries of other non- Wahabi Muslims sect followers, according to the minister, who mentioned the crisis witnessed in Harar, Gimma, Wellega, Illubabor and Bale areas of the country over the past years. 

The group have been working in secrete to make Ethiopia a Muslim nation that will be ruled by Shriya law by abusing the rights of religion stated in the constitution of the country. “As such acts of Wahabi Muslim extremists will lead the country in chaos, the government is forced to intervene,” the minister said.  

According to the Ethiopian constitution government and religion are separate and one will not interfere into business of the other. While people are free to choose the religion they want to follow. In addition it also states that there will be no state religion in Ethiopia and all religions are equal. 

Contrary to this, the government has now found that the Wahabi Muslim extremists have been working underground to make Ethiopia a Muslim nation by violating the rights of other people to believe in what ever they want. 

“We have found evidences and pamphlets were publicly distributed during the month of Ramadan calling on the Muslim community to stand up against all non- Wahabi Muslims and other religion followers,” he said.  

Wahabi sect is a member of a strictly orthodox Sunni Muslim sect from Saudi Arabia. The doctrine strives to purify Islamic beliefs and rejects any innovation occurring after the 3rd century of Islam; “Osama bin Laden is said to be a Wahhabi Muslim”.

Religion and Faith Director General at the Ministry, Meressa Reda on his part said: “At the moment our main duty is to save the innocent Muslims who being led to the traps of religious conflict in Ethiopia orchestrated by these Wahabi Muslim extremists”.  

Implementing Constitution without Rules 
From the public transport to streets, from government offices to universities, different religion extremists have been abusing the rights of people who also have the right not to follow any of these religions. 

The fact that Ethiopia has not yet put in place proclamations, rules and manuals on how to use freedom of religion and faith written on the constitution is mentioned as one of the reasons that allowed people to abuse these rights.

At the moment one there is no clear rule which areas are for preaching religion and what kinds of precautions has to be taken in order to avoid the peace of other citizens who do not belong to that specific religion.

There is no clear demarvcation between residence areas and noisy religious practices at any time of the day and night. If one generous person of a certain religion gives his home to the followers, they can automatically convert it to worshiping institutions violating the rights of other people who used to live peacefully. 

As a result most of the dominant religions in the country are engaged in underground zero sum intra and inter religion war. If one religion follower put a giant speaker on a four wheel drive car and disturbs the city with limitless volume, its competitor comes with a larger truck and speaker to annoy the city. 

There is no rule in place that will protect the peace and health of the people who are not interested in any religion. 

Some of the participants of the workshop also described most of these religious institutions as the most corrupt and failed institutions to serve even their followers properly. Many agree that if the institutions were properly managed at least the lives of the poor Ethiopians from whom they collect money could have been better today. 

Some people suggest that government has to approach these institutions and assist them in preparing and implementing transparent and accountable institution running guidelines by specifying clearly their role in poverty reduction in addition to the usual spiritual services they have been busy for centuries.  

As a result of conflicts within or between or among these religion extremists is resulting in unnecessary bloodsheds and burning of mosques and churches. Some people advice that the government has to use early warning and protection mechanisms before such conflicts manifest.

External Interference

Arab Wahabi missionaries, mainly from Saudi Arabia, continue to make inroads into the Ethiopian Muslim community, but are meeting increasing resistance in doing so, according to a recent US cable released by Wikileaks. The indigenous Muslim culture (mainly Sufi Muslim community) has come under attack since 9/11 by Wahabi missionaries engaging in what amounts to cultural imperialism against Ethiopian Islam.

“Prior to 9/11, there was little Wahabi proselytizing in Ethiopia.  As a result, Ethiopia’s delicate Muslim/Christian balance and historic attitudes between the faith communities regarding tolerance and mutual respect are being challenged, thereby undermining U.S. interests in the region.  Sufi Muslim leaders want support from the U.S. to counter this pressure,” according to wikileaks.

The other part of US cable released August 30, 2011 stated that as part of the strategy of countering Wahabi influence through cultural programming the United States government has been doing different things in Ethiopia since 2006 to present. 
The report indicated that the Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) of the US government has granted to restore the Sheikh Hussein Shrine in Bale.

“In addition, AFCP grant to restore the Teferi Mekonnen Palace in Harar (although the childhood home of Emperor Haile Selassie, the Palace now houses the City Museum, which is heavily focused on Muslim life in Harar,” stated the cable entitled ‘Countering Wahabi Influences in Ethiopia Through Cultural Programs’.

Besides, AFCP grant to restore the Muhammad Ali House in Addis Ababa, the home of a prominent Muslim merchant that reflects the heavy influence of Muslim merchants and trade with the Middle and Far East in the 19th century, according to Wikileaks.

“When well-considered and executed creatively, cultural programming can make a real difference in turning back Islamic extremism and turning public opinion against activists who seek to overturn the existing order and import a brand of Islam that breeds conflict through its corrosive teachings that run counter to more orthodox interpretations of the Koran,” Ambassador Yamamato concludes in his July 2009 report.

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