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American Missionary Attacked in India - 2003-01-15

In southern India, an American missionary has been attacked and injured by suspected Hindu hard-liners. A member of a radical Hindu group has been arrested in connection with the attack.

Police say the attack took place as Joseph Cooper was making his way to a car late Tuesday after attending a Protestant convention close to Kerala's capital, Trivandrum. Officials say about 10 people surrounded and attacked the missionary with swords, sticks and crowbars.

Mr. Cooper received deep cuts, and is being treated in a local hospital. Several other people accompanying him, including a local preacher and his family members also were injured. The American missionary had come to India from the United States to attend the convention.

Police say the attackers fled when church members rushed to help the victims.

Officials say the person arrested in connection with the attack is a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteer Corps. This is a Hindu group closely allied to the Bharatiya Janata party, which heads the federal coalition government. Several other members of the group have been detained for questioning.

A local leader of the National Volunteer Corps, R. Santhosh, denied that his organization is linked to the attack. He alleged that Mr. Cooper and other preachers at the convention had insulted Hindus in their speeches.

Kerala Chief Minister A.K. Antony described the attack as "unfortunate," and said such incidents happen rarely in the state.

Four years ago - soon after the Bharatiya Janata party took charge of the federal government - there was an increase in violence aimed at Christian churches and missionaries. In the worst incident, an Australian missionary and his two sons were burned to death, allegedly by a Hindu mob.

Many of those attacks were blamed on radical Hindu groups, who accuse Christian missionaries of converting poor Hindus by offering money and other inducements such as educational and medical services. Christian organizations deny the charge.

Anti-Christian violence has abated in recent years, and only a few isolated incidents have been reported. Christians make up about two percent of India's population.