Please join us in praying for Niger, as attacks on villages in the southwest have left more than 137 people dead. While we are not aware of any Christians directly affected by these attacks, Open Doors is concerned that these attacks are dividing society by challenging decades of religious and social cohesion that Niger has been known for.
On Sunday 21 March, gunmen on motorcycles invaded three villages in Niger’s southwest, killing at least 137 people in coordinated raids – although the death toll is expected to rise. The assailants struck in the afternoon, raiding Intazayene, Bakorat,Wistane and other hamlets in the Tahoua region bordering Mali.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for this brutal attack, but the Islamic State Greater Sahara (ISGS) is assumed to be responsible as they are known to operate in this area near where the borders of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso converge.
While Open Doors is not aware of any Christians directly affected by this violence, it is concerning that these attacks are dividing society by challenging decades of religious and social cohesion that Niger has been known for.
The attackers have an Islamic expansionist agenda and want to establish a caliphate. As these radical Islamic groups pursue this goal, they disrupt social cohesion by pitting people of different ethnic groups against each other – as they did in Sunday’s attack. According to Illia Djadi, Open Doors’ Analyst for Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) in sub-Saharan Africa, most of the victims were ethnic Tuaregs.
“A further concern is that the sudden increase in attacks is challenging the state,” Illia says. “These radical Islamic groups are already collecting taxes from civilians there. Until now, Niger has been able to keep such groups outside of the country’s borders. Since the beginning of the year, increasing territory has been lost to these groups in western regions bordering Mali.”
Sunday’s attack follows several violent incidents. On 15 March, 66 people were killed in an attack on a bus carrying shoppers from the market town of Banibangou, after which the village of Darey-Daye was raided. Inhabitants were killed, and their granaries torched.
On the same day, so-called Islamic State claimed an attack on the area where the borders of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali converge, in which 33 Malian soldiers were killed. And on 2 January, 100 people were killed in attacks on two villages in the Mangaize district of the troubled Tillaberi region.
Niger has declared three days of national mourning following the attack. The country dropped out of the World Watch List this year, but there was still an increase in persecution points – which suggests that persecution against Christians there is still rising.
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