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Sahel: African region is the new ‘epicentre’ of persecution against Christians, according to the Global Terrorism Index

Sahel: African region is the new ‘epicentre’ of persecution against Christians, according to the Global Terrorism Index
CREDIT: Institute for Economics and Peace
ET staff writer
ET staff writer
22 April, 2022 2 min read

Africa’s Sahel region has become the ‘new epicentre of terrorism’ and persecution against Christians, according to the latest Global Terrorism Index (GTI).

The Index has shown a significant upward trend in persecution of Christians in the Sahel region following a surge in Islamist fundamentalism.

According to the 98-page GTI report from the Institute for Economics and Peace, Islamic State has ‘shifted its attention to Sahel’, following military defeats in Syria and Iraq.

The GTI believes the prime movers behind the growing conflict include Islamist terror groups Islamic State in West Africa and Jama’at Nasra al-Islam wal Muslimin.

‘They targeted the family specifically because they knew they were Christian,’ according to Release partner Susanna (not her real name). ‘As they ran away, Mamouna’s husband was killed.’

The report said, ‘The Sahel has become increasingly more violent over the past 15 years, with deaths rising by more than 1,000 per cent. The increase in violence shows no sign of abating.’

It showed that five of the top 10 deadliest terror attacks in 2021 were in Sahel; the rest were in Afghanistan.

The Sahel region stretches across Africa from west to east, covering parts of countries including central Mali, northern Burkina Faso, the extreme north of Cameroon and the Central African Republic, central and southern Sudan, Eritrea, and the extreme north of Ethiopia, among others.

The situation is becoming worse in Burkina Faso, which now ranks fourth on the GTI. According to the report, Islamist attacks on Christians there rose to 216 in 2021, with terror groups focusing on the country’s borders with Niger and Mali.

Armed gangs target Christians

In its recent Persecution Trends report, Release International highlighted the region as a hotspot, with Release partners on the ground saying Christians are being executed by armed gangs who target their villages and stop cars and buses on the road.

For example, Mamouna (not her real name), her husband and two small children, aged four and seven, were singled out because of their faith.

‘They targeted the family specifically because they knew they were Christian,’ according to Release partner Susanna (not her real name). ‘As they ran away, Mamouna’s husband was killed.’

Until 2014, Christians and Muslims lived peacefully together side by side. But then heavily armed jihadis began returning from conflicts in Libya and Syria, and by 2019 the violence had spiralled.

Paul Robinson, chief executive of Release International, said, ‘The conflict in the Sahel is the forgotten jihad.

‘The religiously motivated violence that has been growing in Nigeria is now being replicated in a much wider region. It is time for the world to sit up and take notice.’

ET staff writer
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