Christians in Lebanon have been forming armed groups to protect themselves from the encroaching threat of the Islamic State in Syria following cross-border kidnappings and beheadings of Lebanese soldiers and disturbing graffiti threatening the religious minority.
Lebanon’s Daily Star reported that chilling spray-painted messages have appeared on two churches in Tripoli, Lebanon, over the past week including, “We came to slaughter you, you worshipers of the cross," and “The Islamic State will break the cross.”
Crosses were burned last week and churches were defaced, the Daily Star reported, contributing to an atmosphere of fear among the Christian population that's prompted some to turn to guns to protect the community.
The Associated Press reported that Christians in the border town of Qaa have organized into defense squads to shield themselves from the Islamic State and other extremist groups fighting in Syria. The AP reported that it's the first time since the Lebanese war that Christians are arming themselves.
"We all know that if they come, they will slit our throats for no reason," one armed villager told the AP.
In this Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014 photo, two young men ride a motorcycle past a church in Lebanon's Christian village of Ras Baalbek in the northern Bekaa region near the border with Syria. Across the Middle East, Christian communities as old as the religion itself feel their very survival is at stake, threatened by militants of the Islamic State group rampaging across Iraq and Syria. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
"We don't want to attack anyone and we don't want anyone to attack us," said Suleiman Semaan of Ras Baalbek in Lebanon, just miles from an Islamist stronghold in Syria.
Lebanese politician Samir Geagea, a Christian, this weekend rejected calls for Christians to arm themselves, warning it could jeopardize the Lebanese state.
“Calls for people to carry arms only aim to serve a blow to the state and its institutions,” Geagea said according to the Daily Star, noting that “Christians only carried arms during the civil war when the state completely collapsed.”
Still, Geagea called the Islamic State group “a cancerous tumor.”
Syria-based jihadi militants launched an attack last month into Arsal on the Lebanon border and kidnapped Lebanese soldiers and police, among them Christian conscripts. Two soldiers, one Sunni Muslim and one Shiite Muslim, were beheaded.
On Saturday, Islamist militants on a motorcycled fired at Lebanese soldiers patrolling near Qaa, the same town where Christians had formed the self-defense squad, the AP reported, quoting Lebanon’s state-run news agency.
A coalition of eastern Christian churches in Lebanon on Monday appealed to Muslim religious authorities to “issue a clear and blunt” fatwa to prohibit attacks against Christians and other minorities, the Daily Star reported.
Christians are estimated to make up some 35 percent of the population of Lebanon.