2014-03-01:TWO CHRISTIANS KILLED TRYING TO STOP GUNMAN IN RUSSIAN CHURCH SHOOTING

Country/Region: Russian Federation

Two Christians were killed when a gunman burst into a church in Russia and opened fire on the congregation at the end of a service on Sunday (9 February).

The attacker shot at Christian symbols, breaking a cross inside the church in the city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on Sakhalin Island, off Russia’s eastern coast, and shouted against God and Christianity.

A nun and another worshipper who tried to stop the gunman were killed on the spot. The nun had apparently tried to help women and children who were inside the building to escape. A senior church leader hailed her as a martyr.

Six other people were shot in the legs; their injuries are not thought to be life-threatening.  

The attacker, a 25-year-old security guard, was detained at the scene. He had reportedly obtained the weapon from the private security firm for which he worked.

OLYMPIC SECURITY CONCERNS

The church shooting happened amid concerns about possible terrorist attacks on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Sakhalin Island is, however, around 4,500 miles away, and there was no apparent link to the Games.

Russia has stepped up security throughout the country for the Olympics, which started on Friday (7 February). Islamic militants who are fighting to establish their own state in the North Caucasus, just east of Sochi, have threatened to launch attacks during the Games.

Over the last few days, at least seven armed militants have been killed in clampdown operations by Russian special forces.

Tight security surrounds Sochi; 37,000 soldiers and police have been deployed in a so-called “ring of steel” around the city.

A Pew Research Center survey conducted last year showed that just over half of Russians think that Islamic extremist groups pose a major threat to their country.

Christians in the North Caucasus region are especially vulnerable. Wahhabism, the extreme and puritanical version of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia, has been spreading, and Christians face harassment, intimidation and persecution from the Muslim majority. In Chechnya, women are under pressure to wear the hijab.