At least six churches in southeastern Niger were ransacked and burned down on Friday (16th Jan) by hundreds of Islamist demonstrators angered by a cartoon published by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. The houses of Christians have also been attacked.
The french magazine’s offices in Paris were the subject of a horrific attack by Muslim Extremists earlier in January. As a response the subsequent edition of the publication featured a image that has angered Muslims. These attacks highlight just how various parts of the world view the church as a ‘Western’ religion.
According to local sources, an angry mob marched through the streets shortly after Friday prayers in the mosques. Shouting “Allah Akbar” – God is great – they attacked and set fire to most of the churches in the south-eastern city of Zinder, about 1,000 km from Niamey, the capital of Niger.
The protesters, believed to be mainly young people, looted and ransacked several properties and shops belonging to members of the Christian community in different parts of the city.
“Please pray for our colleagues and other Christians in Niger,” requested an Open Doors co-ordinator. “To date we have confirmed reports of six churches and more than 10 homes of Christians burned in Zinder.”
Violence seems to have spread to other towns. “In Magairia and Goure one church was burned. Today it has reached the capital Niamey where some churches have been put ablaze. Pray for peace and God’s intervention and for our colleagues who reside in Niamey and might be in danger as well. They have been advised to take refuge in the military barracks – as many other Christians also have.”
According to local sources, four people were killed, among them a member of the security force. Several public buildings and properties were also set afire.
Although relations between the religious communities have been relatively peaceful, the country faces a growing threat from Islamist groups in neighbouring countries, notably Boko Haram in Nigeria to the south, and Al Qaeda-linked groups in Niger’s western neighbor, Mali, and northern neighbor, Libya. Since 1991, dozens of Islamic associations have emerged, including extremist groups.
This area is close to the extreme north of Nigeria where Islamism has gained a hold and there is a history of violent incidents.
In September 2012, three churches – the main Catholic cathedral and two evangelical churches – were ransacked in the same city of Zinder, following a demonstration over the U.S. film ‘The Innocence of the Muslims’. At least seven churches were attacked in 2013. The violence meant that Niger was in the World Watch List for the last two years, although in 2015 it slipped out of the top 50.
Christians represent a tiny minority in Niger and are often targeted by Islamists. Persecution comes mainly from family and the local community. Christians have also faced death threats and threats of abduction.
The President of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, attended the Paris anti-terror demonstration on January 11, along with the Archbishop of Niamey, Mgr. Michel Cartatéguy, and the Head of the Islamic Council of Niger. Even so, the government has condemned the latest Charlie Hebdo illustration, which depicts a weeping prophet Mohammad, and has banned publication of the satirical magazine in Niger.
Source: World Watch Monitor; Open Doors
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