Christians have been killed and attacked in targeted violence across sub-Saharan Africa, with several new stories being shared by local Open Doors partners from countries including Mozambique, Niger and Mali. Nigeria is most often in the headlines for Islamic extremist attacks, but incidents like these show that Christians in the whole region are vulnerable. Please be aware that you may find some of the details in these accounts particularly distressing.
People with ‘Christian-sounding’ names were ordered to one side. People with ‘Muslim-sounding’ names were sent to the other. This took place at a recent meeting in Naquitenge, a village in northern Mozambique – a meeting started by strangers to the village.
After they had separated the people into Christians and Muslims, they began shooting the Christians dead.
“They pretty much sprayed people with gunshots,” a source shared with a news agency. “It is one of the most vicious attacks we have ever heard of.”
"It is one of the most vicious attacks we have ever heard of."
A local Open Doors fieldworker, David*, says that 12 Christians were killed in the violence. Seven of these were believers killed in the gunfire. Others were cruelly locked in a burning building. “Five Christian women were locked inside a house while they were tied up. Then the jihadists burned the house, and all the women died when the house burned completely,” says David.
Responsibility for the attack has been claimed by so-called Islamic State (IS). Mozambique’s Minister of Defence told journalists that the killings were likely to be a response to the elimination of the group’s Mozambican commander and two other senior leaders by the armed forces in August.
The Islamist extremist group Ahlu-Sunnah wal Jama’ah has waged an insurgency in the north of Mozambique since 2017. The militants aligned themselves with IS in 2019. This increase in violence – often, as this case shows, targeting Christian communities – is among the reasons that the country moved up nine places to number 32 on the World Watch List this year. Fighting between the group and Mozambique’s armed forces, backed by regional military troops, has claimed thousands of lives and forced a million people from their homes.
Heavenly Father, my heart breaks when I read about atrocities like this. Please strengthen and sustain this community of believers as they recover from this ordeal. Comfort those who mourn and give them the peace that passes understanding. Thank You that You can say to Your children: “Take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
In a Nigerien church in Panpangou, near the Burkina Faso border, a group of Christians were meeting recently for Sunday morning worship – just like thousands of churches around the world. They were closing the service with prayer when a group of jihadists burst in. Four armed men entered, each one carrying an assault rifle, knife and whip.
“Have you not heard that we have banned Christian worship in this area?” one of the men said, as the group pointed guns at the congregation – later reported by one of the believers present to an Open Doors local source. The Christians protested that they didn’t know that such a ban existed, but the jihadists didn’t believe them.
The armed men asked the Christians to kneel. One of the jihadists took his whip and told them that he was going to beat them, because they did not obey their instruction. Married women were told to step aside; they would not beat them because of their babies and pregnancies. Unmarried girls had to remain kneeling with the men.
The kneeling believers were flogged 10 times. Among them there were 14 men and three women. After their flogging, the militant called the pastor and flogged him 30 times.
Afterwards, the jihadists went to a nearby church where they found some young people having a meeting. When the youths saw the jihadists, many tried to escape, jumping through the windows. Unfortunately, they caught three girls and flogged them eight times. The jihadists warned the young people that, if they continued to worship, the militant group would return and destroy the village.
Lord God, I pray for my courageous brothers and sisters in Panpangou to heal from their physical wounds and from their trauma. Please ‘take hold of their right hand and say to them, Do not fear; I will help you’ (Isaiah 41:13). May Your peace, love and hope overflow in this community. Amen.
The people of Mali had been looking forward to celebrating Independence Day on 22 September – but festivities had to be cancelled after a series of violent incidents, many of which directly targeted the nation’s small number of Christians (around 2% of Malians are Christian). Since the coup d’état in August 2020, the security situation has continued to deteriorate.
Firstly, last month, jihadists attacked a boat travelling from Gao to Koulikoro. “The boat received three shell fires on its gas tank, engine, and cabin,” shares a local source. “So, it was panic everywhere in the boat. Many passengers got into the river, but unable to swim, many of them died in the water.”
"It’s very sad. The jihadists are starving the population." Open Doors field contact
Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Group of Support to Islam and Muslims (GSIM), a militant jihadist group operating in West Africa. Soldiers from a nearby military camp intervened to halt the militants, and were also attacked. The jihadists killed 49 civilians from the boat, as well as 15 soldiers. The following day, a suicide bomber detonated their bomb at a military base in Gao.
A week later, more than 100 women were returning from a women’s fellowship conference called ‘How Christian women must respond to persecution’. They discovered that jihadists were blockading their cities. “The women who came from the north cannot go back to their families,” says a local field contact. “It’s very sad. The jihadists are starving the population.” At least 38 of these women have still not been able to return to their families, several weeks later.
These are just two of the Islamic extremist incidents that have taken place this year – the Africa Center for Strategic Studies predicts that there will be over 1,000 such incidents of violence in 2023, eclipsing last year’s record level. Mali is number 17 on the World Watch List, rising several places from the previous year – due, in part, to an expansion of jihadist violence.
Lord of Peace, please give Malian Christians ‘peace at all times and in every way’ (2 Thessalonians 3:16). Thwart the plans of jihadists and give authorities the wisdom and equipping to end this surge of violence. May Your children be instruments of peace in the nation. Amen.
You can write to Christians at a trauma care centre run by Open Doors partners in Nigeria – the country that is the epicentre of violence in sub-Saharan Africa. They’d love to hear words of encouragement from you and your church.
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