Libya’s Christians Tense as Easter Celebrations Commence

Churches in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, are tightening security measures before Easter celebrations on concern that Christians will be targeted by Islamist militants.

The doors of the Christ the King Church in the city’s Old Town will be closed during services, Reverend Vasihar Baskaran, vicar at the Anglican church, said in an interview. In previous years they were left open, with people free to come and go, he said.

“I asked the congregation not to linger in the courtyard, and just to go home after the service,” Baskaran said. “We do not want to provoke any distractions.”

Baskaran said he also cancelled a Palm Sunday parade through the streets. Police guards are stationed around the capital’s Coptic Church. Further east, the Vatican closed the Congregation of the Holy Family of Sapoleto, a 100-year-old monastery on the coast at Derna, and evacuated the Franciscan Sisters of the Child Jesus convent at nearby Barca.

Islamists, suppressed under the 42-year rule of Muammar Qaddafi, have been flexing their muscles in the security vacuum that emerged after his ouster in 2011. Much of the violence has been directed at the minority Sufi sect, through the ransacking of their libraries and destruction of their mosques and shrines.

More recently, militants have attacked churches and cemeteries. In February, a gunman shot at Catholic and Greek Orthodox priests in Tripoli. Christians account for an estimated 1 percent of the population of 6.5 million and are mostly foreign workers.

Dozens of people have also been arrested on charges of proselytizing.