By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
Barnabas Fund told Worthy News that it was “not thought that any church members or other Christians were among the fatalities.”
The May 12 attack targeted the village of Fantio, in the Téra department of Tillabéri, Barnabas Fund said, citing local Christians. A witness was quoted as saying that the town witnessed on “the morning of May 12 a horde of terrorists who came on motorcycles”.
The attack underscored growing pressure on Niger’s minority Christians who mainly live in the Tillabéri region, near the border with Mali and Burkina Faso.
In March 2021, at least 58 people were killed in an Islamist attack in the region, according to Christians familiar with the situation.
That same month another 137 were reportedly killed by militants linked to the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara (ISGS) group in Tahoua, near the Malian border.
Besides ISGS, the Boko Haram group is active in parts of southern Niger and targets Christians, according to human rights activists.
The actions of Boko Haram have created a massive humanitarian crisis that has impacted believers, Christian aid groups say.
Militants already created an atmosphere of hatred towards Christians in June 2019, when a Protestant church was torched by protesters who were protesting the arrest of an Imam, Christians said.
In October 2019, a mission school reportedly was vandalized by Islamic jihadists. Some 99 percent of Niger’s 24 million citizens are Muslim. The country and other parts of West Africa and the Sahel region of Africa is a hotbed of global jihadists, according to experts.
“In border regions under Islamist control, Christians have been hindered from celebrating Christian weddings,” noted Christian advocacy group Open Doors. “Public worship and meetings of Christians have to be conducted with caution in such areas, due to the threat of violence from militant groups.”
Additionally, families of those converting from Islam to Christianity “try to make them stop following Jesus Christ by threats or use of force,” the group added.
The tensions come as a significant challenge for Niger’s former interior minister Mohamed Bazoum who was sworn in as president in April 2021, in Niger’s first democratic transfer of power since independence in 1960.
He has made clear that his most immediate priority is the deadly jihadist insurgency causing chaos in the west of the country and across the broader Sahel region. The United States has a significant military presence in the country to combat Islamist militants. Niger has become noted as a significant transit route for migrants seeking a better life in Europe.
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