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Witnesses: Sudan demolishes church in latest persecution of Christians

By CNN Staff
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
A Sudanese government force destroyed a church in Khartoum on Monday, witnesses said.
A Sudanese government force destroyed a church in Khartoum on Monday, witnesses said.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Witnesses: A Sudan government force destroyed a church near the capital
  • The government warned it would happen, a priest says
  • Sudanese officials did not return calls from CNN
  • Demolition follows the release of a woman who was sentenced to death for being Christian

(CNN) -- A Sudanese government force destroyed a church Monday, ignoring the wails of nearby residents, witnesses told journalists working for CNN.

The attack came a day after authorities sent a letter saying they would demolish the church, priest Kuoa Shimal said.

Government sources did not immediately return calls from CNN.

Complaints about the predominantly Muslim country's lack of religious freedom came under the international spotlight recently after Mariam Yehya Ibrahim, a Christian mother of two, refused to renounce her faith and was sentenced to death. After an international outcry, she was freed and reunited with her American husband.

The 70-strong force Monday arrived at the Alizba slums near the capital, Khartoum, around 10 a.m., witnesses said. Some were dressed in plain clothes.

CNN visited the scene afterward, where the religious site was reduced to rubble.

In April 2013, the Sudanese minister of religious affairs announced that no licenses would be granted to allow for the building of new churches -- less than two years after the predominantly Christian South Sudan seceded to form an independent country.

During a brief territorial war between Sudan and South Sudan in April 2012, a mob of Islamist extremists attacked and destroyed a church west of Khartoum despite a police cordon around it.

The threat of violence has caused Sudan's churches to empty. At a recent Sunday service, worshipers asked CNN not to identify them by name.

"The church is now contaminated with terror. You don't feel safe in prayer," one Christian activist said.

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