DUSHANBE, Tajikistan (BP)--Three Muslim extremists have been arrested and interrogated about a church bombing in Tajikistan that killed at least nine members of the church and injured more than 70 others.
The Korean-led Sonmin Grace Church located in Tajikistan's capital, Dushanbe, was bombed Oct. 1 as church members gathered for Sunday worship. The first bomb exploded on the third floor. The second bomb, located under the stairwell, was timed to detonate as people evacuated the building.
According to the Russian ITAR-Tass news service, the explosions "tore the doors off their hinges, shattered the windows and turned the furniture into splinters."
A third bomb, which failed to detonate, was found in the church basement. A police spokesman said one of the bombs equaled eight pounds of dynamite.
Authorities did not allow anyone to visit the gutted building for a week. Once it was reopened, international aid workers, concerned Christians and representatives from the United States embassy toured the church's remains.
"I can't quite describe the feeling of seeing a mural of our Lord, splattered with the blood of his martyrs," said one friend of the church, "but I can rest in knowing that the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church. Build your church, Lord!"
Local community groups collected donations of food and clothing to help support families that lived in the bombed area. International aid agencies donated money, medicine and clothes. U.S. government representatives were so touched that they collected personal money to help the survivors.
While the Russian newspapers called the bombing an act of terrorism possibly instigated by Islamic militants, local Tajik authorities initially arrested 12 church leaders as suspects.
All the Christians detained after the bombing have been freed, though some remain under virtual house arrest because their official documents have not been returned. The released church leaders said they were questioned about the bombing, but also were interrogated about their Christian faith and any plans they had for evangelization.
Some were asked to deny their faith in exchange for release.
Physicians from international aid organizations and concerned Christians were not allowed to visit or help church members who were hospitalized. Tajikistan's minister of health said no one was to see the victims in order to protect them from the attackers, who might return to kill survivors.
The suspected bombers are students at an Islamic institute. They are described as "religious fanatics" who are connected with two other attacks.
The bombing was not the first time Christians have come under attack in this country where more than 90 percent of the people claim to be Muslim. Threats had previously been made against Sonmin Grace Church and its pastor, Korean-American Yun Seop Choi.
Compass Direct news service reported that police raided three worship meetings last fall, arrested church members and confiscated literature as punishment for "illegal missionary activity." In November, representatives of the government's Committee for Religious Affairs told the church its active ministry might cause the congregation to lose its state registration.
"The KGB and others have been threatening this [church] group for months," a Dushanbe resident told Compass Direct.
Tajikistan is still recovering after a five-year civil war that ended in 1997 with a peace agreement between the neo-communist government and an Islamic-inspired opposition. Since then, traditional Muslims have steadily gained power in the country. More than 95 percent of the 6 million Tajiks are Sunni Muslims.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo titles: TAKE UP YOUR CROSS; PERSECUTED, BUT NOT ABANDONED; and BLOOD OF THE MARTYRS.