By / Apr 1

Every Friday, we bring to you the top five international stories of the week, with a particular emphasis on religious liberty, justice issues and geopolitical issues that impact liberty and justice.

1. Major bombing attack at park in Lahore, Pakistan, on Easter Sunday kills 65 and wounds nearly 400. The attack specifically targeted Christians on Easter Sunday, according to the group that carried out the attack. That group, Jamaat-e-Ahrar, is a splinter group of the Taliban, the fundamentalist Islamist group waging an insurgency in Afghanistan. Most of us can be excused for not knowing that the attack in Pakistan targeted Christians, however, because most media outlets seemed reluctant to report on that fact.

2. New Canadian government to close its Office of Religious Freedom within the foreign ministry. Religious Freedom Ambassador Andrew Bennett has faithfully served Canada and persecuted religious minorities around the world since he was appointed in 2013. In 2015, the Liberal Party led by Justin Trudeau took control of Canadian Parliament. The Liberals signaled early on that they would not renew the mandate of the Office for Religious Freedom, which was set to expire March 31 of this year. In response, Jewish, Sikh and Ahmadiyya Muslim organizations asked the Liberal government not to scrap the office. The Catholic Bishops and Robert George and Katrina Lantos Swett of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom have also weighed in, asking the new Canadian government to reconsider. So far, these calls have been ignored. Until yesterday, Canada was the only other country other than the United States to have an Ambassador for Religious Freedom. Ambassador David Saperstein now holds that distinction alone.

3. Myanmar swears in first civilian president in decades, ending military rule in the country. This election represents a major shift in the country, which has been under military rule for 50 years. The previous president instituted several reforms that paved the way for this election. While this election provides many signs of hope, Myanmar is not yet truly free of military rule. Several key security ministries are controlled by the military, and the military has veto power over any changes to the constitution. The NLD party won in a landslide, picking up 392 of the 492 available seats. Through Myanmar's 2008 constitution, the President is chosen indirectly, by the Parliament.Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the NLD Party cannot become the President, however. The BBC explains: "Article 59F of the constitution states that if one of your "legitimate children . . . owes allegiance to a foreign power" you are disqualified. That covers both Ms Suu Kyi's sons Kim and Alexander, who have British passports."

4. Man hijacks EgyptAir plane to get attention from ex-wife, gets attention from police instead. Thankfully, no one was hurt in the incident. The hijacker, Seif al-Din Mustafa, claimed to be wearing a suicide bomb belt; the belt turned out to be a fake. The plane was diverted to Larnaca, Cyprus, where an hours-long standoff between police and Mustafa ensued. The hijacking ended without incident. It has been widely report that Mustafa, who police said was "unstable," hijacked the plane to get the attention of his ex-wife, who lives in Cyprus. But the hijacker also made other "incoherent demands," shedding doubt on his overall intentions. Newsweek has an exclusive interview with the copilot, who was alone with the hijacker before making a dramatic escape out of the cockpit.

5. “Sickening” allegations of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers in the Central African Republic emerge (warning: graphic story). As the UN Security Council's investigation commences in the Central African Republic, a new set of accusations regarding sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers has emerged alleging that more than 100 girls were abused by UN soldiers in one prefecture. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power declared, “These infernal abuses defy the very values the UN was created to uphold, taint the legitimacy of the institution, and undermine the effectiveness of those honorable peacekeepers who are attempting to protect civilians and promote peace.” It will be necessary to monitor the UN’s ability and will to legitimately govern itself in a region of the world so often famous for human rights atrocities yet so often overlooked.

Have suggestions for a top 5 article this week or think there’s an issue we should be covering? Email me at [email protected].

By / Mar 25

Every Friday, we bring to you the top five international stories of the week, with a particular emphasis on religious liberty, justice issues, and geopolitical issues that impact liberty and justice.

1. Major terror attack in Belgium kills 31 and wounds nearly 300; many remain in critical condition. The attack was claimed by the Islamic State 8 hours after the attack; it remains unclear how many were involved. There were a number of warnings that an attack was imminent, but the Belgian security apparatus was not prepared to stop the attack. This is in part because Islamic State networks in Belgium have had time to entrench themselves and develop sophisticated anti-surveillance and telecommunication protocols.

The attacks have triggered an intense manhunt to find and arrest others believed to be involved in the attack, including a well-trained and expert bomb-maker. Policy experts are now grappling with what had led to the radicalization in Brussels, and some point to a failure of domestic policy that has led to a generation of poor youth without hope for a future.

The Brussels assault has eclipsed a major attack in Istanbul last weekend, which was also claimed by the Islamic State.

2. Air Force One lands in Cuba for the first time the Coolidge Administration in 1928. The visit was the latest in a series of moves by the Obama Administration to thaw US-Cuba relations. During the visit, Cuban dictator Raúl Castro criticized the US economic embargo. But it is unclear whether the embargo will be lifted any time soon, as the embargo cannot be lifted without congressional approval. This approval does not appear to be forthcoming. The NY Times has a terrific photo essay showing Cuba “on the edge of change.”

Thousands gathered to welcome President Obama, but those not in attendance include the thousands of political dissidents jailed for political opposition to the Castro regime. The visit was a perfect opportunity to discuss human rights. Whether these conversations were productive, only time will tell.

3. Greece struggles to implement new rules for migrants after deal with EU and Turkey. The new EU rules will require Greece to send back migrants not eligible for asylum. Many migrants that had made the harrowing journey were not aware of the new policies. The EU has pledged more than 2,000 police and asylum experts to assist Greece with processing new arrivals, but these personnel have not yet arrived.

4. Former Bosnian leader convicted of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Radovan Karadzic, who is 70 years old, was sentenced for 40 years in prison for his role in the atrocities committed during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, including the killing of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995. The trial, which took place 21 years after Karadzic was indicted, represents the most significant trial of the ICTY's 23-year history.

5. The battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State has begun. The offensive to retake the Nineveh Plain from the Islamic State has been anticipated for months. This week, the long-term offensive began, led by Iraqi troops and assisted by U.S. marines. The assault will be long and difficult, and the Islamic State is not expected to give up Mosul without a significant fight. The city is Iraq's second largest and the most significant population center for Iraqi Sunnis. Iraqi forces have been positioning for the battle for Mosul for months, obtaining strategic positions that will help in cutting supply lines to Mosul. This will be a story to watch, but most experts do not believe that Iraqi forces will be able to complete the offensive before the end of 2016.

Have suggestions for a top 5 article this week or think there’s an issue we should be covering? Email me at [email protected]

By / Mar 18

Every Friday, we bring to you the top five international stories of the week, with a particular emphasis on religious liberty, justice issues, and geopolitical issues that impact liberty and justice.

1. Obama Administration issues declaration that ISIS campaign against religious minorities, including Christians, is genocide. The ERLC worked with other organizations for months, through both public letters and dozens of private meetings and conversations to keep this issue on the State Department's agenda. Russell Moore, ERLC President, said, "Millions, including many of our Christian brothers and sisters, have experienced the most brutal forms of persecution, and entire cultures are now on the brink of extinction." The ERLC welcomes this announcement and commend Secretary Kerry for moving forward with the declaration in opposition to advice by close aides and advisors.

2. Progress made during Syria peace talks in Geneva this week. One major sticking point is the release of a number of rebel leaders detained by the Assad regime; progress was not made on this issue. Secretary Kerry will travel to Russia next week to discuss the progress made this week. Most remain skeptical of Russia's involvement and concerned about Russian interest and involvement in the Assad regime and the peace process. But a New York Times op-ed tells us that we need not be afraid of the Russians. We shall see.

3. In major surprise, Russia withdraws a portion of its troops from Syria. Moscow is still maintaining troops and planes in Syria, but the announcement does signal a significant troop and warplane drawdown. Putin indicated that the reason for the troop withdrawal was that Russia has achieved most of the objectives it set prior to intervening in the conflict. Although we should be careful to not interpret Putin's declaration of "mission accomplished" to mean that the war is now over. But Russia has succeeded in stabilizing the Assad regime's military presence in Syria and in establishing itself as a key voice through the remainder of the peace process and civil war.

4. North Korea sentences 21-year-old American college student to 15 years of prison and hard labor. The North Korean government has sentenced 21-year-old American college student, Otto Warmbier, to 15 years of prison and hard labor. Warmbier had entered N. Korea as part of a tour group and was arrested prior to flying out of the country when it was discovered that he was attempting to steal a propaganda banner in support of the communist regime. Hours late, the US Government imposed a set of sanctions on N. Korea that are the result of a UN Security Council resolution from two weeks prior. This harsh conviction marks a similar pattern in oppressive governance by the N. Korean dictatorship and is a reminder of the need for continuing and urgent prayer, gospel work, and legal reform north of the 38th Parallel. Also this week, US officials say North Korea fired ballistic missiles into the ocean in apparent test launch.

5. EU deal with Turkey on migrants continues to move forward. As Ankara scrutinizes the draft deal, both parties continue to move toward a final agreement. However, a final deal is far but certain. The government of Cyprus has expressed concerns about the deal, which could accelerate Turkey's accession to the EU. Cyprus remains divided between independent southern Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a country recognized only by Turkey.

Bonus longread: Ultra-deep dive into "The Obama Doctrine" on foreign policy.

Have suggestions for a top 5 article this week or think there’s an issue we should be covering? Email me at [email protected].

Matthew Mihelic contributed to this post.

By / Mar 11

Every Friday, we bring to you the top five international stories of the week, with a particular emphasis on religious liberty, justice issues, and geopolitical issues that impact liberty and justice.

1. The EU and Turkey nearing deal on migrant crisis. Under the deal, Turkey would take back all migrants seeking to leave Turkey for Greece by boat. In exchange, discussions on Turkey joining the EU would be revived, ordinary Turks would receive additional visa privileges within the EU, and Turkey would receive significant funds from the EU for the resettlement of migrants in Turkey today. According to the Economist, "Every element of the arrangement is politically, legally or morally problematic. . . . But Europe is doing the right thing." The UN has raised concerns that the deal, which would involve the transfer of migrants from one country to another, may violate international commitments related to the treatment of refugees. Whether the deal actually comes to fruition is another question, but this is certainly an issue to watch over the next few weeks.

2. Two thousand Islamic State "HR records" leaked to the press and German intelligence. Although the records were just recently leaked to a Syrian newspaper, German intelligence indicated that they had had possession of the documents for some time. The documents contain information about foreign fighters' preferences, blood types, background and experience, and other information useful for learning about the Islamic State's recruiting tactics and operations.

3. Iran conducts two tests of new ballistic missiles despite U.S. sanctions. Despite the fact that these missiles are capable of carrying a nuclear payload, Iran has maintained that the purchase and development of these weapons is legitimate under international law. Just a few hours after US hostages had left Iranian airspace, the US imposed new sanctions on Iran related to its ballistic missile testing. The US has condemned these attacks, but it remains to be seen what further action the US and international community will take.

4. The United States is facing opposition to what would be the first-ever UN Security Council resolution against the ever-growing problem of sexual exploitation by UN peacekeepers. In 2015, there were 69 allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers with only 17 investigations completed by the end of January. More than half of the allegations involve rape or sexual abuse of children. In only one case of sexual exploitation did a country punish their soldier, but the punishment was merely a nine-day suspension. These cases are towering evidence of the failure of the UN to govern itself and the need to bring reform immediately.

5. U.S. airstrikes in Somalia kill 150 Shabab fighters preparing for significant military operation. U.S. military intelligence had been monitoring the Shabab camp, known within the U.S. intelligence community as Camp Raso for some time. About 200 fighters were gathered in formation as a part of a ceremony believed to be the launching point for a major attack against African Union and U.S. training forces.

Matt Mihelic contributed to this article.

Have suggestions for a top 5 article this week or think there’s an issue we should be covering? Email me at [email protected].

By / Feb 22

Every week, we bring to you the top five international stories of the week, with a particular emphasis on religious liberty, justice issues, and geopolitical issues that impact liberty and justice.

1. Turkey steps up attacks against Syria in Iraq after major terror attack in Ankara. A Kurdish separatist group unaffiliated with the major Kurdish parties claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed 28. In response, Turkey launched airstrikes against Kurdish positions in Syria. Turkey had been shelling these positions this week, but the conflict heated up dramatically after the terror attack. Turkey seems to see the rise of Kurdish power and influence in the region as a threat; Kurds within Turkey continue to press for greater political rights within Turkey.

The U.S. has supported and coordinated with Kurdish forces Syria, who have been the United State's most reliable ally against the Islamic State. The growing tension between Turkey and the Kurds puts the U.S. in a difficult position as Turkey maneuvers to force the U.S. to pick a side.

2. Uganda experiencing alarming turmoil and violence associated with its current round of elections. President Museveni has been in power for 30 years and this month's elections have already experienced police violence, the jailing of Museveni's most credible opponent, and now a national ban on the social media sites Facebook and WhatsApp. Museveni has brought considerable stability to Uganda and is considered a strong U.S. ally, but the recent election turmoil reveal a lack of genuine transparency in the nation's politics along with the potential capacity for Uganda's days of tranquility to be threatened if leadership is not eventually transitioned peacefully.

3. Political leaders, religious leaders, and religious freedom advocates gather in Taiwan to coordinate on religious liberty in the Asia-Pacific region. The Asia Pacific Religious Freedom Forum held its first gathering with representatives from 26 different countries across the region. The Forum held high-level discussions to share best practices and coordinate strategic efforts to promote religious freedom across the region. The participants drafted and released the Taiwan Declaration for Religious Freedom, which APRFF will release to the public along with a list of signatories in the coming months.

4. An MSF hospital in Syria was bombed this week, creating an alarming trend of hospital attacks in the region. The hospital was supported by Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym, MSF. The attack killed 25 people, injuring scores more. The hospital was “double tapped”: four missiles struck the hospital, and then the hospital was attacked again after rescue services arrived at the hospital.

In most cases, MSF registers the locations of its hospitals with all combatants to the conflict where the hospital operates. But in this case, the MSF hospital in Syria kept its location secret to prevent it from being bombed by Syrian or Russian forces.

MSF has suffered a number of hospital attacks over the last few months. U.S. planes mistakenly attacked a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan; multiple MSF hospitals in Yemen have been attacked. This trend is truly disturbing; international humanitarian law guarantees the right to receive medical care, regardless of which side of the conflict a person is on.

5. Radioactive material stolen from Iraq last year. The material, which was about the size of a small laptop, went missing last year from a facility near Basra. The material was owned by a Turkish company and used for specialized oil and gas testing equipment. The U.S. State Department was aware of the theft and indicated that there is no evidence that the material has fallen into the hands of the Islamic State or another terrorist group.

Bonus:

6. U.S. airstrike hits Islamic State training facility in Libya. A U.S. source has indicated that the attack killed as many as 40 Islamic State trainees.

The U.S. also struck cash stash houses in Iraq and Syria, which are believed to have destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars in cash.

7. Analysis of Hillary Clinton's record on the Syrian Civil War.

Have suggestions for a top five article this week or think there’s an issue we should be covering? Email me at [email protected].

By / Feb 12

Every Friday, we will bring to you the top five international stories of the week, with a particular emphasis on religious liberty, justice issues, and geopolitical issues that impact liberty and justice.

1. The United States and Russia announce plan for humanitarian aid and cease-fire in Syria, to start in a week. The plan will allow medical services, humanitarian aid, and other resources to reach besieged areas that house starving civilian populations. The plan does not call for a total cease-fire, as the so-called Islamic State and the al-Nusra front are not included in the plan. Hostilities against those two groups will continue. When announcing the plan, Secretary Kerry expressed some uncertainty as to whether all parties would honor the ceasefire. On Friday, the UN suggested that aid may start flowing into besieged areas in Syria within 24 hours.

2. Venezuela inches toward the brink of insolvency. Low oil prices have been driving Venezuela into the world's worst recession; the IMF is predicting that the Venezuelan economy will contract by 10% this year. In addition, the Venezuelan currency, the bolivar, is effectively in freefall, dropping 80% relative to the dollar since last year. But up until this point, Venezuela has avoided defaulting on its national debt. Analysts are now predicting this week that a national default is only a matter of time.

3. Satellite imagery may show mass grave outside of Burundi's capital, Bujumbura. Unconfirmed reports had been circulating within the country that over 50 people had been killed in political clashes. Burundi has experienced significant political turmoil after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to seek a third term in office.

4. Short of the 1000-year anniversary, the Pope and Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church agree to meet face-to-face. Although there has been some lower level coordination between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, the leaders of the two churches have not met in person since the Great Schism in 1054. The two will meet in the airport in Havana, a symbolic location due to the historic ties of both the Catholic church and the Russians over the years. Commentators have offered different reasons for why the two will finally meet, but the plight of Catholic and Orthodox Christians in the Middle East has been a major shared agenda between the two churches in recent years.

5. Foreign Policy reports that a Russian gas company is operating a gas plant controlled by … the Islamic State. In an unbelievable story, Foreign Policy reports that the Tuweinan gas facility, which is located 60 km outside of the so-called Islamic State's "capital," Raqqa, is being run by a Russian gas company with ties tro Vladimir Putin. According to a Syrian rebel leader, “[the Islamic State] allowed the Russian company to send engineers and crew in return for a big share in the gas and extortion money.” This incident shows the complexity of the situation in Syria, where economic ties link together parties otherwise locked in battle. The story also highlights the fact that while Russia entered the Syrian theater under the pretext of fighting the Islamic State, its true ambitions seem to be propping up its ally, the Assad regime.

Have suggestions for a top 5 article this week or think there’s an issue we should be covering? Email me at [email protected].

By / Feb 5

Every Friday, we will bring to you the top five international stories of the week, with a particular emphasis on religious liberty, justice issues, and geopolitical issues that impact liberty and justice.

1. Syrian peace talks have been delayed for three weeks as Assad's forces make major headway against rebel forces holding Aleppo. Some analysts have argued that these talks are certain to fail anyway, but it does not appear that the international community has a good “Plan B” at the moment. Meanwhile, King Abdullah Jordan said this week that the country is at a “boiling point” with the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees.

This week, there were reports that Islamic State commanders are taking refuge in Libya. This provides some indication that the so-called Islamic State is diversifying its territorial holdings as well as seeking refuge from an aggressive and effective air campaign. Also this week, donors at a London fundraiser pledged to raise “billions” of dollars in humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees.

2. Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil will go on, despite Zika virus concerns. The World Health Organization is scrambling to respond to the virus, which can cause serious birth defects if a pregnant woman is infected. This week, ERLC published a helpful explainer on the virus. The first case of Zika was reported in Texas

3. North Korea announces satellite launch to UN agencies as early as next week. The satellite launch has been widely condemned by the international community, in part because the launch has been seen as a pretext for a ballistic missile test. In advance of the launch, the US has readied missile defense assets. Japan also has placed its military on alert as a measure of readiness, as international pressure against North Korea mounts to abandon the missile test.

4. Nigeria requests a $3.5 billion loan as plummeting oil prices drain the country's budget. Sustained low oil prices triggering major economic instability and could be a major destabilizing force in the Middle East and North Africa. Royal Dutch Shell has announced that its profits are down 56 percent on low oil prices, leading to a 10,000-job layoff.

5. Germany makes major arrests of suspected Islamic State operatives in Berlin. The two Algerian men are believed to have attended a training camp in Syria. German police continue to search for two other suspects linked to a terror plot. Security in Germany has been heightened since the Paris attacks and sexual assault episodes in Cologne on New Year's Eve.

Have suggestions for a top five article this week or think there’s an issue we should be covering? Email me at [email protected]

By / Jan 29

Every Friday, we will bring you the top five international stories of the week, with a particular emphasis on religious liberty, justice issues and geopolitical issues that impact liberty and justice. With the Evangelicals for Life conference and a grueling travel schedule to escape #Snowpocalypse2016, I wasn’t able to get last week’s installment out. As a result, this post covers last week as well.

1. Hundreds of Muslim scholars gather in Marrakesh to issue a declaration in support of the rights of non-Muslims living in majority-Muslim countries. The gathering was a truly historic event, with great geographical and theological diversity. It is, therefore, a significant achievement that any declaration was agreed upon, much less one rooted in Islamic law. I had the honor of attending the conference and will publish a report on the conference next week. Read the entire declaration here.

2. Pakistani boy, 15, cuts off own hand right hand to prove he is not a blasphemer. This NY Times account is chilling and worth a read. The boy was at religious services when the imam asked all who did not love the Prophet Muhammed to raise their hands. The boy misheard the prompt and mistakenly lifted his hand, and the imam shouted to the entire congregation that the boy was a blasphemer. To atone for his mistake, the boy went home and cut off his own hand. The reaction of the boy's father is the part of this story is particularly noteworthy: “We are lucky that we have this son who loves Prophet Muhammad that much. . . . We will be rewarded by God for this in the eternal world.”

One issue the NYT article does not discuss is the fact that Pakistan's infamous blasphemy law was enacted by the British during the colonial period. The law was put in place in an effort to create peace between the different religious groups in Colonial India, which included today's India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma. So although it is true that Islamic law speaks to issues of blasphemy and that the blasphemy law was strengthened under Islamist rule of Pakistan, the starting point for the law was colonial history. For a deeper dive on blasphemy laws in Pakistan, the blog Get Religion has a great article.

3. French Justice Minister resigns in the face of proposed law in France that would strip convicted terrorists of citizenship. The new law would represent another step in cracking down on terrorist activity in France, which is still reeling from the attacks in November 2015. France has been in a state of emergency since the Paris attacks, allowing the police to hold suspects under house arrest and prohibit demonstrations and assembly.

4. Laurent Gbagbo, former president of the Ivory Coast, on trial before the International Criminal Court for war crimes. In 2011, then-president Gbagbo refused to step down from office, triggering four months of deadly conflict, during which time 3,000 people were killed. The ICC will hear evidence that Gbagbo was responsible for orchestrating a "campaign of violence," including mass killings.

Gbagbo will be the most senior official to ever appear before the ICC, a major test of the international court's credibility. The United States is not a part of the ICC, arguing that the court represents an inappropriate intrusion into state sovereignty.

5. Rise in employment of Saudi women is having significant cultural impact. Let's be clear from the outset: women still cannot drive and still require permission of a male guardian to travel and study. But cultures don't change in a day, and here is a glimmer of hope for change. From the article: "The number of female employees has grown 48 percent since just 2010, and the high female unemployment rate, at 33 percent, paradoxically shows that record numbers of Saudi women are trying to get out of the house and into the workplace."

Bonus longread: Alexander Litvinenko: the man who solved his own murder.

Have suggestions for a top 5 article this week or think there’s an issue we should be covering? Email me at [email protected].

By / Jan 15

Every Friday, we will bring to you the top five international stories of the week, with a particular emphasis on religious liberty, justice issues, and geopolitical issues that impact liberty and justice.

1. Iran detains and releases U.S. sailors. This week, the Iranian navy detained—and released—10 U.S. sailors that strayed within three miles of Iran’s Farsi Island. It appears that one of the U.S. vessels had suffered engine malfunction, making it impossible for the vessel to retreat to international waters. Secretary of State John Kerry indicated that the release of the U.S. sailors was a “testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong.” One U.S. sailor apologized for straying into Iranian waters and accepted responsibility; it remains unclear whether this admission was made under duress or threat.

2. Doctors Without Borders hospital in Yemen bombed, killing five and wounding 10 others. Doctors Without Borders (French: Medecins Sans Frontieres or MSF) has been caught in the crossfire again; a “projectile” struck a hospital in Yemen, collapsing several buildings in the hospital compound. This is the third “incident” at an MSF facility in Yemen in three months. And in Kunduz, Afghanistan, an MSF hospital was bombed by U.S. warplanes last October.

3. Explosion in Istanbul kills 12. A suicide bomber killed at least 10 people in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet square, which is close to the famous Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Nine of the victims were German, according to authorities. Some Turkish officials have blamed the attack on the Islamic State, but the responsibility for the attack remains murky. On Thursday, seven were arrested in connection with the attack. But just as Turkish officials were trying to reassure the public, another blast struck the police headquarters in the Cinar district in southeastern Turkey, near the Syrian border. That attack, which killed at least five and wounded 39, has been attributed to the PKK, a pro-Kurdish party.

4. So-called Islamic State carries out coordinated attacks in Jakarta, killing two and wounding more than 20. Although the attack was relatively minor—one CNN analyst described the attack as “fairly amateurish … with hand grenades and firearms”—an attack in the world’s largest Muslim country raises concerns about the rise of extremism in Indonesia. This latest attack is part of a trend counter-terrorism experts have called a “Marauding Terrorist Firearms Attack,” or MTFA.

5. Fifteen-year-old Turkish Kurd attacks Jewish teacher in Marseille with a machete in the name of ISIS. The teacher’s back and hand were injured during the attack, but the teacher was able to successfully defend himself by kicking and using a Torah as a shield. Although the attacker declared that the assault was in the name of the Islamic State, the New York Times notes, “The majority of Kurds oppose the Islamic State, so it was unclear what had motivated the teenager to carry out the attack.” Just this week, the Jewish Agency reported that Jewish immigration to Israel from Western Europe has reached an all-time high.

Bonus: Here’s how you can pray for the persecuted church in Nigeria. My ERLC colleague Matthew Hawkins provides in-depth analysis of the situation of persecuted Christians in Nigeria and gives practical, specific ways to pray for our Nigerian brothers and sisters.

Have suggestions for a top 5 article this week or think there’s an issue we should be covering? Email me at [email protected]

By / Jan 8

Every Friday, we will bring to you the top five international stories of the week, with a particular emphasis on religious liberty, justice issues, and geopolitical issues that impact liberty and justice.

1. Saudi–Iranian tensions on the rise as Saudis and Iranians break off diplomatic relations. As Iran re-enters the international community after the nuclear agreement, Saudi Arabia is working with its allies to contain rising Iranian power. On Saturday, Saudi Arabia executed a Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who had studied in Iran for 10 years. In response, an Iranian mob attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran, setting a portion of it on fire. In response to allegations that the attack was facilitated by the Iranian government, the Saudis broke off diplomatic relations with Iran. Bahrain, Sudan, Kuwait, Djibouti, the UAE, and Qatar have joined in by cutting or downgrading their own diplomatic relations. Foreign policy analysts are divided on the importance of this development. After all, Saudi–Iranian and Sunni–Shia tensions in the Middle East are nothing new. But this development will make cooperation more difficult at just the time when it is desperately needed in the region.

2. North Korea claims to successfully test a hydrogen bomb. Few in the international community believe this claim, arguing that a small thermonuclear device was actually tested. The test, which was conducted 50 miles from the Chinese border, heightens tensions between China and North Korea; the international community is still working to coordinate a response to the North Korean regime.

3. Iranian TV broadcasts video of subterranean ballistic missile facility. In defiance of international threats for new sanctions, Iranian media broadcast video from inside a ballistic missile research facility run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The missiles featured in the video, the Emad, are capable of carrying a nuclear payload an estimated 1,300 kilometers. The video presents a major challenge to the U.S., which has been struggling to contain Iranian attempts to test the limits of its relationship with the international community.

4. Chinese stocks tumble, stock exchange suspended twice this week. For the second time in one week, the Chinese government shut down trading on the Chinese stock exchange. The sell-off, which amounted to double-digit losses for the week, has injected a great deal of uncertainty into the world economy. Economic uncertainty in China could lead to political and social instability, in turn leading to an increase in persecution of those seen as a threat to the Chinese elite, including Christians.

5. Sexual violence in Cologne fuels anti-refugee rhetoric and sparks debate on tolerance for refugee and migrant populations. More than 100 women have come forward to report sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany. Many of the women report being surrounded and assaulted by men who “spoke neither German nor English.” The incident raises concerns about the efficacy of police enforcement on New Year’s Eve. The response to the attacks also raise concerns about anti-Islam and anti-migrant rhetoric, which is already on the rise in Europe.

Have suggestions for a top 5 article this week or think there’s an issue we should be covering? Email me at [email protected]