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.
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.
Recent weeks and months have seen an upsurge of attacks targeting Christians and Church leaders in Africa’s most populous country:
- 18 July, suspected Fulani herders attacked and killed the traditional ruler of the Ron/Kulere tribe (in the Bokkos Local Government Area) in Nigeria’s central Plateau State. Sir Lazarus Agai, a Christian, was attacked on his way home from his farm. He is the third Christian district-head killed by Fulani herders this year.
- 9 July, a female preacher was hacked to death near Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. Eunice Elisha, 42, and a mother of seven, had gone out to preach as was usual, but her lifeless body was later found by the police.
Eunice Elisha, 42, and a mother of seven was hacked to death while preaching in Nigeria.
- 30 June in the town of Obi, in the central state of Nasarawa: father of seven, Rev. Joseph Kurah, was ambushed by two armed men after he arrived at his farm. His severely mutilated body was later recovered from the scene. Ethnic Fulani herdsmen are suspected in the killing.
Other killings and acts of violence have been reported:
- 8 June in Kaduna state, Francis Emmanuel, a 41-year-old carpenter, was waiting for food when a gang of six Muslim youths stabbed him. It was Ramadan, and he was not fasting.
- 2 June, Bridget Agbahime, 74, wife of Mike Agbahime, pastor of Deeper Life Bible Church in Kano, was ambushed by angry mob for allegedly blaspheming against Islam’s prophet. In June, at least 133 people were killed in recent attacks by ethnic Fulani in Logo and Ukum areas of Benue state in central Nigeria. More than 76 churches were ransacked and burned.
- 30 May in Niger state: Methodus Chimaije Emmanuel, 24, was attacked and killed by a mob, after allegedly posting a blasphemous statement about Muhammad on social media. Three other people, including a police officer, lost their lives as a result of violence that followed the killing. A church and a house were burnt down and 25 shops were looted.
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.
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.
- 1 July, a pastor was among six killed when gunmen attacked two buses in Kenya’s north-eastern region of Mandera, near the Somalia border. Pastor John Njaramba Kiruga, was returning home from facilitating a training on pursuing peace between Christian and Muslims in Garissa and Mandera, a volatile region where attacks by Al Shabaab are frequent.
- In March 2015, on the eve of Easter, 149 mainly Christian students were killed when a University in Garissa was attacked by a number of Islamist extremists. The attackers went from room to room, and those who could not affirm the Muslim ‘Shehada’ were killed; others were spared.
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”.
- 17 July, an assault at Egypt priest’s home kills 1 and injures 3, said a statement by the Diocese of Minya, 240km south of Cairo. “The family of two priests of Minya were subject to assault involving clubs and knives,” said the statement about the attack, which took place on Sunday evening (17 July) in the village of Tahna el-Gabal. A 27-year-old man was killed in the assault “due to a stab to the heart”, while two more were seriously injured: the priest’s father and a brother of the second priest.
- 30 June, a Coptic Orthodox priest was shot dead in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula by Islamist militants. Fr. Raphael Moussa, 46, was shot four times in the head from a passing taxi as he stood next to his car in Arish, the capital of northern Sinai. The priest was returning home from leading mass at the Mar Girguis (St. George) Church. Moussa is the second priest in Arish to have been assassinated by the jihadists. Fr. Mina Aboud Sharubim was shot dead in July 2013, just three days after Islamist President Mohamed Morsi was toppled by the Egyptian military.
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.
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.
- 16 October, 2014, one attack decimated an entire community, including Pastor Kanyamanda Jean Kambale, his wife Odette and two of their children.
- 19 October, 2012, three Catholic Assumptionist priests, P. Jean-Pierre Ndulani, Edmond Kisughu and Anselm Wasukundi, were kidnapped from their home in the town of Mbau, in Beni. Local journalists reported that they were taken by an armed militia. According to local newspaper Les Coulisses, and Radio Kivu 1, they were killed a year later because they refused to convert to Islam, but there is no proof of this, and their whereabouts remains unknown.
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”.
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.
- September 2015: one of the top three religious leaders, who won global recognition for his efforts to end the conflict, escaped an assassination attempt. The President of CAR’s Evangelical Alliance, Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou, was targeted in an attack apparently triggered by the death of a young Muslim motorbike taxi driver. On 26 September, angry Muslim youths armed with automatic weapons and machetes, entered the Elim Church compound, where his house was, asking for him. But they learned that he had already left the house. The assailants killed two people before leaving.
- January 2015: Two aid workers (including a cleric) kidnapped at gunpoint on Jan. 19. Claudia Priest and Rev. Gustave were released on Jan 23.
- October 2014: a Polish priest was abducted by members of a rebel group called the Democratic Front of the Central African People, in the extreme west of the country, near the Cameroon border. Rev. Mateusz Dziedzic, of the diocese of Tarnow, in Baboua, was released weeks later.
- September 2014: two pastors were among 100s killed by rebels. Pastors Thomas Ouanam, 60, and Pierre Bapteme, 46, were killed in two separate attacks nearly a week apart, attributed to Seleka rebels.
- February 2014: Pastor and son killed. Rev. Pierre-Séverin Kongbo, 52, his son Dieubéni were killed on Jan. 28 by former members of the disbanded Séléka group in the Bégoua church compound in northern Bangui, the capital.
- December 2013: three pastors were among those killed in Bangui, the capital. Raymond Doui, 46, Elisha Zama, 33, and Jean-Louis Makamba, 48, were killed on Dec. 5 as members of the disbanded Séléka rebel forces went on a rampage following an offensive by Christian-dominated anti-Balaka militias.
This story was originally published by World Watch Monitor. It is reproduced here, with permission.
Some prayer points to help
- Pray that Christians who face persecution would trust wholeheartedly in the promises of God.
- Ask God to strengthen them through their trials.
- Pray for deliverance from persecution for all Christians.