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Islamic State in Central and Southern Africa a Threat to Vulnerable Christian Populations

Despite the escalating persecution of Christians in Africa, the general indifference worldwide to the persecution of Christians continues, and is a scandal of monstrous proportions. There is still no sustained or concerted effort by government authorities or international human rights organizations to stop this persecution. There is no country in the world today of which it can be said that while Christians were once persecuted there, now they live in safety and security.

Please continue to pray that the hearts of world leaders would be softened, and that they would finally be moved to act to end this scourge.

For previous ChristianPersecution.com coverage of the persecution of Christians in Africa and elsewhere, as well as the imminent disappearance of Christianity from some of its ancient strongholds, see here.

“Islamic State in Central and Southern Africa a Threat to Vulnerable Christian Populations,” by Jay Church, International Christian Concern, April 8, 2021:

04/08/2021 United States (International Christian Concern) –When the Islamic State (IS) found itself forced out of the Middle East in 2019, it quickly regrouped in Africa. Capitalizing on widespread economic woes and pockets of unrest and dissatisfaction, IS today has found new life as a catalyst for violence in Africa—violence that often involves or targets Christians simply for their faith.

Though IS’s rapid rise in Africa may surprise some, its targeting of Christians should not. IS has a long history of targeting Christian communities wherever it goes, whether in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, or Africa. The founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was a radical extremist who, in 2005, advocated “the killing of infidels by any method.”

Al-Zarqawi’s brutal methodology called for the death of anyone who did not align with his theological views—something that his organization carried out even after he died in 2006. IS is responsible for the displacement of millions and the deaths of hundreds of thousands more as it carries out its jihadist mission around the world.

Unfortunately, the death toll keeps climbing as IS grows in size and influence across Africa. Beginning with the Algerian Jund al-Khilafa in September 2014, terror groups across North Africa were the first to pledge allegiance to IS. A group of fighters in Libya pledged allegiance to IS in October 2014. Similar groups in Egypt and Tunisia followed suit shortly after.

Today, there are many more affiliates all around Africa, including in the central and southern parts of the continent. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Mozambique are home to two of these affiliates. Both have grown deadlier over the last several years, and both deserve not only studied attention but also a swift and devastating response by an international military coalition like that which took down IS in the Middle East….

The Impact of Islamic State on Christian Communities

Christian communities stand out among the others as a particular target of IS violence in Africa. In contrast to the Middle East, where Christianity has long been a small, persecuted minority, the majority of central and southern Africa’s population practices Christianity. Though less prevalent in the north, Christianity is practiced by 49% of the population continent-wide.

Christianity’s prevalence in the region makes it particularly repugnant to IS, which seeks to create a global Islamic caliphate at the expense of all other religious practices. In a statement after the recent attacks on the northern Mozambiquan town of Palma, IS boasted that its affiliate had killed dozens of security personnel—and Christians, including westerners from what the statement termed “Crusader nations.”

This rhetoric around the Palma attack is consistent with the IS mode of operation that emphasizes its desire to eradicate Christianity from its areas of control at all costs. While the eradication of Christianity is by no means the only motivation in these attacks—the attack in Palma struck perilously close to and shut down a gas plant run by the French energy giant Total, another target of local IS animus—IS considers the extermination of Christianity nonnegotiable.

Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa has spoken out on the threat that IS poses to Christianity in Mozambique, where he served as head of the Pemba diocese for over six years before being reassigned in February. “It was an extremely searing experience, an experience of the cross, an experience of suffering,” he said in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need.

IS’s local affiliate in Mozambique burned several chapels and attacked a catholic church in a spate of attacks over Holy Week in 2020. Militants attacked the church on Good Friday and killed 52 young people when they refused to join the militants, according to Lisboa. “To us they are true martyrs of peace because they would not agree to take part in the violence, in warfare, and that is the reason why they were murdered.”

Bishop Lisboa asked local missionaries to leave the area as the attacks increased. “[The militants] were starting to attack churches, and the violence was taking on a religious dimension,” he said. “I have to keep [the missionaries] safe.”…

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