Violent Muslim Mobs Burn Churches and Christian homes and Businesses, Leaving 20 Dead in Niger
International Christian Concern
International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that churches, Christian business, and pastors' homes across Niger have been burned and 20 people killed as Muslim protests against Charlie Hebdo's second portrayal of the prophet Mohammed devolved into violent riots last night. Protests launched by outraged Muslims in former West African French colonies including Niger, Algeria and Senegal as well as in other Muslim-majority countries, including Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan, have produced violent mobs that, at the time of this release, continue to roam the streets of several cities, causing Christians in these and other countries across the world to seek shelter for fear of violent reprisals against them for the French satirical magazine's provocative publication.
On January 7, Cherif and Said Kouachi stormed Charlie Hebdo's headquarters in Paris, France, wearing masks and armed with assault rifles. The brothers proceeded to kill 11 Charlie Hebdo staff members while screaming "God is great" and "We have avenged the prophet Mohammed"in Arabic. The brothers then fled back onto the streets of Paris, where they killed two police officers before hijacking a vehicle to escape the scene of the attack. Subsequent attacks connected to the massacre-a violent reprisal for Charlie Hebdo's inflammatory portrayals of Muslims and the prophet Mohammed-have been carried out across the Île-de-France region of Paris in which radicalized Muslims connected to the massacre murdered five additional French citizens, including both civilians and law enforcement personnel.
According to the BBC, "At least two churches have been set on fire in the capital of Niger amid fresh protests against French magazine Charlie Hebdo's cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad." But, in an email to ICC, World Renew's Niger Director wrote from the capital, Niamey, that "many churches have been burned, pastors' homes destroyed." The Director continued, "We are on very high alert as the chaotic mass moves through the city. Many local believers have sought shelter somewhere other than their homes."
In an email to ICC, Christian missionaries based in Niamey, Niger, wrote that "all of [their] churches have been burned along with the pastor's homes...almost every church [they] know or are associated with has been attacked." The missionaries, who despite seeing smoke "around all sides of [their] house" remain in Niamey, continued, writing, "Jesus said 'I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.' We are confident that this persecution will only grow the church and the Gospel in Niger."
AFP has reported that as at least seven churches have been burned in Niger, clarifying that "the sites, which were primarily evangelical churches, were torched on the left bank of Niamey, several of them housed in small villas that bore no distinctive religious signs." The report went on to state that rioters "were also headed for the right bank, which also contains numerous churches." It's been reported that in the heart of the city, Niger police have deployed tear gas against those gathered.
International monitors estimate as many as 20 Nigeriennes have been killed in the violence, the worst of which has targeted Christian and government property, including churches, police stations and government buildings in Zinder, Niamey, Maradi and Goure. In an email, World Renew's Niger Director asked ICC to call on Christians in the West to "pray fervently that the authorities will be able to get the situation under control and that calm will return."
Burnings of churches and Christian homes and businesses have become increasingly common as radically conservative Islamic teachings imported from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have infiltrated Niger's mosques. The poorest country in the world, Niger has become a breeding ground for Islamists and jihadists, including Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau. A Nigeriene by birth, Shekau's sermons espousing a global war against Christians are regularly played over the loud speakers of mosques across Niger, calling young Muslim men to join the jihadist's cause both in Nigeria with Boko Haram, and in Niger.
Cameron Thomas, ICC's Regional Manager for Africa said, "Communities across the Islamic world, outraged by the satirical magazine's depictions of Muslims and the prophet Mohammed, have formed into violent mobs and taken to burning churches and Christian homes and businesses. In response, Christians in Niger, Mali, Sudan and Somalia have fallen into states of panic and, in many cases, have fled their homes for shelter from possible attack in response to the publication's decision to confront issues of Islamic extremism with cartoons. Christians in Muslim-majority countries hostile to even the practice, let alone the spread, of Christianity face incredible hardship for their faith that is often made worse by seemingly unconnected actions in the Western world. Over the course of these riots, dozens of churches and Christian businesses and homes will burn for a cause unconnected to themselves. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who have lost property and loved ones in the violence, with the hope that no more innocent lives will fall victim to the violence or destruction that was sparked last week on the streets of Paris and has now spilled over onto the streets of Niamey, more than 2,000 miles away."
For interviews, contact Cameron Thomas, Regional Manager for Africa: RM-Africa@persecution.org
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