The 26 July killing of a Catholic priest in his church in St. Etienne du Rouvray, France, once again has pushed jihadist violence into the headlines. The so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the murder, committed by two knife-wielding attackers who were shot and killed by police.

Rev. Jacques Hamel, murdered on July 26, 2016 in St. Etienne du Rouvray, France.

Rev. Jacques Hamel, murdered on July 26, 2016 in St. Etienne du Rouvray, France. World Watch Monitor

What pushed the story onto Europe’s front pages was its location – France, which, since the January 2015 mass shooting at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office in Paris, has suffered nearly 240 deaths in more than 10 attacks by people claiming allegiance to IS. Though Christians, of course, are among the victims of those attacks, the 26 July murder of  Rev. Jacques Hamel as he celebrated mass was the first to target Christians specifically, in a church.

“This tragic attack, so close to home and following other recent horrors, is another example of the persecution we see all too often in countries around the world,” said a statement released 26 July by Open Doors UK, the British arm of Open Doors, a global ministry that supports Christians who live under pressure because of their faith.

Open Doors International – in its World Watch List 2016 – documented reports of more than 7,000 Christians killed and more than 2,400 churches attacked globally in a single year alone – the 12-month period ending 31 October 2015. Here are examples of just a few of the times and places – in Africa alone – where Christians have been specifically targeted.

Nigeria

Recent weeks and months have seen an upsurge of attacks targeting Christians and Church leaders in Africa’s most populous country:

Eunice Elisha, 42, and a mother of seven was hacked to death while preaching in Nigeria.

Eunice Elisha, 42, and a mother of seven was hacked to death while preaching in Nigeria. World Watch Monitor

Other killings and acts of violence have been reported:

Incidents targeting Christians are the result of growing intolerance and radicalism among Nigerian society, said Atta Barkindo, a researcher and doctoral candidate at the London School of Oriental and African Studies. For a very long time, the focus has been on the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria’s north-east, Bakindo said. But apart from Boko Haram, there are a number of extremist Islamic groups, who recruit from a large pool of uneducated young people migrating toward central Nigeria from the northern cities of Kano and Sokoto, and they operate with little fear of punishment.

Kenya

This East African country has witnessed a growing radical Islam which has resulted in violent attacks against Christians, notably along its border with Somalia where the radical Islamist group Al Shabaab is active.

Egypt

Egypt’s Christians, more than 10 per cent of the population, have faced serious violence since May 2016, including a priest killed, angry mob attacks in Minya and Alexandria, which destroyed homes and displaced families. Reflecting what most Copts see as the country turning a blind eye to increased violence against its Christian minority, the Coptic Church’s Bishop Makarius tweeted on 17 July “reminding” president Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi that Copts “are Egyptian citizens”, and that his diocese of Minya “falls within the country’s jurisdiction”.

Niger

In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, the churches in the predominantly-Muslim West African nation of Niger experienced the worst attacks in their history. On the weekend of 16-17 January 2015, hundreds of angry Islamists attacked and ransacked dozens of properties and churches, shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“Allah is the greatest”).

Ten people lost their lives during that weekend; more than 70 churches were destroyed, as well as numerous Christian schools and organisations, including two orphanages. At least 30 Christian homes were also looted and burnt down.

The motive of the violence was said to be anger at the presence of Niger President in Paris in what was perceived to be support for an anti-religious magazine. The “memorial” issue of Charlie Hebdo, showing the Prophet Mohammad weeping, reinforced this anger and triggered the protests, which quickly turned into anti-Christian violence.

The violence was the expression of a growing intolerance in Niger society, aggravated by the rise of Islamism, noted analysts.

Democratic Republic of Congo

While attention has been focused on Nigeria’s radical Islamist group Boko Haram, a relatively unknown militant group has intensified attacks in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), raising fears of the emergence of a new jihadist organisation in central Africa.

Pastor Kanyamanda Jean Kambale, his wife Odette and two of their children were butchered to death in October 2014 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Pastor Kanyamanda Jean Kambale, his wife Odette and two of their children were butchered to death in October 2014 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. World Watch Monitor

A group of militants originally rooted in a rebel movement to overthrow Uganda’s government and replace it with an Islamist fundamentalist state, but forced to re-locate over the border into DRC, has been carrying out murders of local people, far from the attention of most of the world’s major media.  Attacks including murder, looting, abduction and rape are carried out on an almost weekly basis.

Sudan

Christians in Sudan live beneath a blanket of fear since South Sudan seceded on July 9, 2011. After the South voted for independence from the predominantly Islamic North, pressures on churches and Christians have increased, with Muslim groups threatening to destroy churches, kill Christians and purge the country of Christianity.

As a result there has been a marked increase in harassment of ethnic Christian groups and individuals. Authorities have shut down Christian educational institutes and harassed and arrested employees and church members.

Five months since his initial detention, Sudan’s intelligence agency has re-arrested a local pastor. Rev. Kuwa Shamal joins at least two more Christian leaders in prison, awaiting charges that could carry the death penalty. He was re-arrested on May 24 by members of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) in Khartoum, reported Christian advocacy group Middle East Concern (MEC). Together with fellow Sudan Church of Christ (SCC) pastor Hassan Abduraheem Taour and a Christian convert from Darfur identified as Abdulmonem Abdumawla Issa Abdumawla, the newly jailed pastor is expected to face serious charges including espionage and undermining state security.

Rev. Shamal, who is the SCC head of missions, was first detained for three days on 18 Dec. He later had to report daily to the NISS for several hours and for no obvious reason – a routine lifted in mid-January but re-imposed a month later.

Both Shamal and Taour are from the Nuba people group, native to the border region with the now independent South Sudan – and among the groups resisting ethnic and religious rule from Khartoum’s Arab Islamist regime.

Central African Republic

Beset by a three-year crisis from December 2012, when a coalition of Muslim-dominated rebel groups, called Séléka moved through the country to eventually take power in March 2013. Christians paid a heavy price in that conflict, with dozens of clerics killed and an undetermined number of properties, including churches, defaced and ransacked – mostly by Séléka rebels.

The violence targeting Christians led church leaders to denounce a “rebellion characterised by religious extremism, by evil intentions for the programmed and planned desecration and destruction of Christian buildings, and in particular Catholic and Protestant churches”.

Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou escaped an assasination attempt apparently triggered by the death of a young Muslim motorbike taxi driver in September 2015 in the Central African Republic.

Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou escaped an assasination attempt apparently triggered by the death of a young Muslim motorbike taxi driver in September 2015 in the Central African Republic. World Watch Monitor

Targeted: President of CAR’s Evangelical Alliance, Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame-GbangouAs Séléka’s influence waned, following the resignation of their leader, and the rebels retreated to the north, local Muslims, perceived as accomplices of Séléka, faced attacks by self-defence militias known as anti-Balaka (“anti-machete”). The confrontation between Séléka and Anti-Balaka created a cycle of reprisals.

This story was originally published by World Watch Monitor. It is reproduced here, with permission.

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