Religion Unplugged

A Surging ISIS Threat Endangers Africa’s Christians

Adjunct Fellow, Center for Religious Freedom
nigeria christians
Christians pray in Abeokuta, Nigeria, on November 1, 2020. (Unsplash)

Tragic reports about the killing of Nigerian Christians have become all too common. And the recent account of a Catholic priest being shot and burned alive in his church just before Christmas was particularly gruesome — in that same incident, 40 worshippers also lost their lives. According to The Pillar, the youngest victim was 2 years old. During that same attack on their village, several more children died in their homes as terrorists set them ablaze.

Over many years, Christian clergymen have been specifically targeted for killing or kidnapping during attacks in their Nigerian churches and communities. Priests and pastors are often confronted by severe violence as terrorism continues unabated in Nigeria. The Pillar reports,

  • March 8, 2022. Fathert Joseph Akete Bako of the Kaduna archdiocese died after more than a month of his abduction.
  • In June 2022, Father Vitus Borogo of that same archdiocese was killed during a terrorist raid on a farm he was visiting.
  • In July 2022, a priest of Kafanchan Diocese, Father John Mark Cheitnum, was killed by kidnappers soon after he was abducted. Another priest, Father Donatus Cleophas, escaped from the same abduction.

In fact, according to Aid to the Church in Need, at least 28 priests were kidnapped in Nigeria in 2022 — five in the first week of July alone. Meanwhile, Christian Post reported on Nov. 10, 2022, “Islamic jihadist groups in Nigeria are responsible for killing at least 4,000 Christians and abducting more than 2,300 other Christians in the first 10 months of this year alone.” Genocide Watch claims that 45,644 Christians have been murdered since the July 2009 Boko Haram uprising.

To make matters worse, Boko Haram and other Islamic radicals have become associated with the Islamic State group — specifically its West Africa Province affiliate. This means the killers are likely better armed and equipped for their murderous activities.

Nigeria is clearly a danger zone for Christians, but it is far from the only African country where Islamic terrorists are active, frequently attacking villages and churches. According to BBC, in Congo on Sunday Jan. 16, 2023, some 17 worshippers in Kasinidi were killed and 39 were injured in a suicide bombing. A terrorist group, Allied Democratic Forces, has claimed credit for the attack.  

Notably, ADF increasingly declares its attacks in the name of the Islamic State group.

Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita recently told the Washington Post that nearly half of all deaths attributed to the Islamic State group globally have taken place in sub-Saharan Africa, home to several branches of the terror group. “We remain lucid on the state of the ISIS threat, which has not diminished,” he said. He went on to say that sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 48%, or 3,461, of the deaths ascribed to the Islamic State group worldwide in 2021.

Along similar lines, in mid-2022, Foreign Policy reported that sub-Saharan Africa was becoming a focal point of terrorism, spearheaded by the Islamic State group:

The expansion of Islamic State affiliates is behind the surge in terrorism in many of the Sahel countries. Terrorism deaths in Niger more than doubled in 2020 to 588 deaths. The proliferation of Islamic State affiliates and al Qaeda-linked groups have turned Africa into a terror haven.

Unfortunately, West Africa is not the only danger zone.

In another report published in August 2022, the Islamic State group has linked up with Islamic radicals in northern Mozambique, on Africa’s east coast. According to the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, “ISIS-Mozambique is well positioned to execute a focused, violent, and disruptive guerrilla campaign in a bid to outlast the current coalition of Mozambican and regional forces.”

In the report, the terrorists proudly proclaim their slaughtering of Christians as well as Mozambique’s government troops.

Today we can trace a rapidly advancing swath of Islamist terrorist activity across the African continent. And the protection of Africa’s Christians and other endangered innocents appears to be a lost cause. No defense force seems willing to take on such a demanding assignment. Even America’s efforts have failed.

Military Times writes, “Islamic extremism has exploded in Africa despite ongoing efforts by U.S. Africa Command to stifle terrorism on the continent, an August report from the Pentagon revealed. Conducted by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, the Pentagon’s premier analysis branch for the region, the report noted a staggering 300 percent increase in militant Islamist violence over the course of the last decade.”

In the face of such a discouraging situation, what can we do to make a difference? How can we assist those who are increasingly endangered, or help broken, homeless survivors? Is it possible to successfully appeal for the protection of these vulnerable populations?

To remain fully aware of the struggles of believers in Africa, it’s useful to research international information online. Faith-based outlets like Christian Broadcasting Network, Morning Star News, Christian Post, Catholic News Agency and often provide up-to-date information.

Funding is also essential for those who work inside troubled countries. International organizations such as Voice of the Martyrs, Aid to the Church in Need, Open Doors and other groups offer practical relief in war-torn countries.

Some would like to see a more steadfast and serious American response – perhaps even a potent military intervention – on behalf of endangered international populations. If that is your view, express your concern by contacting your congressional representatives and the White House.

Above all else, let’s speak out with one voice and pray consistently about these tragic circumstances. The news is discouraging, and positive change probably won’t come quickly. Still, we can be sure that we are not alone in our prayers for the countless innocents who are suffering. Our prayers for mercy will be heard. And eventually they will be answered.

Read in Religion Unplugged.