Christian migrants thrown overboard by Muslims ‘in dispute over prayer’
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Christian migrants thrown overboard by Muslims ‘in dispute over prayer’

Fight ensued when man sought divine help after boat sprang a leak; 15 Muslims held by Italian police for murder aggravated by religious hatred

Illustrative photo of migrants arriving at Palermo's harbor, Italy, after being rescued at sea, April 15, 2015. (AP/Alessandro Fucarini)
Illustrative photo of migrants arriving at Palermo's harbor, Italy, after being rescued at sea, April 15, 2015. (AP/Alessandro Fucarini)

Fifteen African Muslim migrants who were arrested by Italian authorities on Thursday for allegedly throwing 12 fellow passengers into the Mediterranean did so after a Muslim objected to Christians praying when their dinghy sprung a leak, a witness said Saturday.

The 15 are accused of multiple homicides aggravated by religious hatred, police said in a statement.

The Muslim migrants threw the 12 Christians overboard during a crossing from Libya earlier this week because of their faith, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported Saturday.

According to the witness interviewed in the paper, during the crossing the rubber craft sprung a leak, and a Nigerian Christian began praying. A Muslim migrant aboard the boat demanded he cease his entreaties, reportedly saying: “Here, we only pray to Allah.”

A fight ensued and 12 Christian passengers were then pushed overboard by the Muslim migrants, who reportedly shouted “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for “God is great.”

A police statement said the apparent motive for the attack was linked to the fact that the victims “professed the Christian faith while the aggressors were Muslim.”

One of the dead passengers, Ousmane Camar, 21, from Ivory Coast, was later found and identified by a wound he suffered at the hands of his suspected attackers.

Palermo police said they detained 15 suspects in the high seas assault, which they learned of while interviewing tearful survivors from Nigeria and Ghana. The survivors arrived in Palermo Wednesday morning after being rescued at sea by the ship Ellensborg.

The survivors said they had boarded a rubber boat on April 14 on the Libyan coast with 105 passengers aboard, part of the wave of migrants taking advantage of calm seas and warm weather to make the risky crossing from Libya, where most smuggling operations originate.

In a separate incident, the International Organization of Migration said on Thursday that four migrants who were picked up in recent days by the Italian Navy reported a shipwreck to aid workers after arriving in the Italian port of Trapani Thursday. Their boat had originally been carrying 45 people; the others are presumed dead.

The IOM said the migrants — two Nigerians, a Ghanaian and a Nigerian — were found floating in the sea and were rescued by the Italian Navy ship Foscari. They had left Tripoli in Libya on Saturday and were adrift for four days.

The new tragedies come just days after aid agencies reported 400 presumed dead in the sinking of another ship near the Libyan coast. The deaths have raised calls for a more robust search and rescue of the seas between Libya and Europe amid a surge in migration between the Middle East and Africa toward Italy.

The UN estimated that 23,500 migrants have attempted to sail to Italy this year alone, while 12,000 more sailed to Greece.

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