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Editorial: Islamist militants shift focu...

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Editorial: Islamist militants shift focus from South Asia to North Africa

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Editorial: Islamist militants shift focus from South Asia to North Africa

Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Qatar, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Africa

The centre of the terrorist movement is moving now from Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arab Maghreb region … and the great danger is at our doors.

This was the stark warning issued last week by Tunisia’s President Moncef Marzouki.

He said that Islamist militants were shifting their focus to North Africa and were stepping up violence in the region. Mr Marzouki said that they were mainly present in Libya and Algeria, especially in the remote Maghreb desert. His own nation, Tunisia, is also under threat; the president said that there were around 3,000 Salafists there who were potentially dangerous. He said:

We are dealing with a real danger, a threat. [Salafism] is like a cancer. The more we wait, the more it becomes extremely difficult to cure.

This “ideological cancer” has its roots in the Salafism of Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Qatar.

There is plenty of evidence to support President Marzouki’s assessment. Most recently, violent Islamist protests against the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims began in North Africa with the storming of official US buildings in Egypt and Libya, which led to a number of deaths, including that of US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.

The remote Libyan desert provides easy passage for Islamist militants
The remote Libyan desert provides easy passage for Islamist militants
Roberto D'Angelo / CC BY-SA 2.0

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) subsequently urged Muslims to kill more US government representatives in the region, particularly in Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania.

The response to Innocence of Muslims in North Africa, which was followed by further protests around the globe, vividly demonstrated the extent to which Islamists there have become emboldened since the Arab Spring. They had been kept on a tight leash by the ousted secular dictators in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt but now have much more freedom to push their agenda.

The success of Islamist political parties in post-Arab Spring elections has given them confidence, and security lapses created by the tumult of regime change has given them opportunity.

The Maghreb region, which comprises Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia, is also threatened by the Islamist takeover of northern Mali, which lies to its south.

Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militant groups, which have been in control of the territory for the last six months, are imposing a harsh version of sharia law including executions, amputations and whippings. Last week, Johnnie Carson, the US assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said that the militants are responsible for acts of terrorism, kidnapping and robbery.

The growth of Islamism in North Africa poses a threat to the security of the entire region and specifically to the vulnerable Christian minority there.

Christians were driven out of northern Mali during the Islamist takeover there, while the Christian community in Egypt, which is the largest in all the North African countries, is increasingly at risk. Egypt borders the Maghreb to the east.

One recent and on-going episode in Egypt highlights how Christians there are being singled out by Islamists. At the end of September militants distributed leaflets in the northern city of Rafah warning Christians to leave within 48 hours or be killed. Gunmen subsequently opened fire on a Christian-owned shop in the city, prompting Christian families to flee.

Islamist President Mohammad Morsi of Egypt visited Rafah on Saturday (6 October) in an effort to reassure Christians that they would not be targeted again. But hours after his departure, the home of Christian resident Magdi Niruz was fired on in a drive-by shooting.

This was no isolated incident. Ishaq Ibrahim of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said it was another episode in a series of assaults on the lives and properties of Christian citizens.

What can be done to stem the Islamist tide that is crashing over the region and threatening to drown the Christian minority?

It is encouraging that Mr Marzouki, a secularist in a power-sharing deal with the Islamist Ennahda party in Tunisia, has taken a stand on this pressing matter. He called for a united response from all the countries in the Arab Maghreb, saying that talks with militants were futile and legal measures were required to address the threat that they posed.

But with Islamists in key positions of power in the region, it is doubtful that there will be the political will to combat the militants.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last week called the situation in Mali “a powder keg that the international community cannot afford to ignore”. This assessment must surely be applied to the entire North Africa region, and it is time for the rest of the world to heed such calls to action.

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Daily prayer

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  • Praise God for the release of John Short, an Australian missionary who was detained in North Korea for distributing Christian leaflets. John, who is 75 and based in Hong Kong, was reported to security officials in Pyongyang after he was spotted leaving a Christian leaflet at a Buddhist temple, an act that is illegal in North Korea. Further Korean-language Christian pamphlets were subsequently found in his hotel room. John, who was released on 3 March after two weeks in custody, was required to sign a confession probably scripted by the authorities. Other foreign missionaries arrested in North Korea have been given long prison sentences. Give thanks to God that John has escaped further punishment, and pray for him as he recovers from his traumatic ordeal. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 15 hours ago

  • Pray for Barnabas Aid partners in South Sudan who have been supporting Christians forced from their homes by violence. Conflict between supporters of President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar in December and January displaced around 860,000 people. Churches were burned down and a number of pastors killed, while many people lost their belongings and were left destitute. Give thanks that churches in and around the capital, Juba, were able to provide food and other essentials to many families with help from Barnabas. Pray that they may continue to be salt and light in their country at this unstable time (Matthew 5:13-16), and that it will soon be safe for displaced Christians to return home. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Wed, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Pray for the residents of a mainly Christian village in Borno state, Northern Nigeria, in the aftermath of a horrific attack by Boko Haram militants on 15 February. Ask for God’s comfort for the relatives and friends of the 106 people in Izghe who were gunned down and slaughtered in their houses or in the open as they tried to flee. Pray for strength for the numerous residents who were wounded or whose properties were looted and torched. Pray too for the many Christians who fled into the neighbouring state after the attack, and ask that the Christian community in the North of Nigeria will be preserved in the face of Islamist violence. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Violent attacks by militants from the Islamist group Boko Haram continue unabated in Northern Nigeria. On one horrendous day of violence on 26 January, at least 138 people were killed. A church in Wada Chakawa village in Adamawa state was targeted; the attackers locked the congregation inside and then detonated bombs, shooting and cutting the throats of people who tried to escape. They then went on a four-hour rampage in the village. Later the same day, Kawuri village in neighbouring Borno state was burned to the ground. Boko Haram is fighting to establish an Islamic state, and Christians are among its main targets. Pray that the Nigerian authorities will succeed in containing its insurgency. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we give You thanks on this Easter Day for the living hope that You have given us and all Your people through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). We pray that the prospect of an enduring inheritance and future salvation will encourage our persecuted brothers and sisters to persevere in their faith, whatever may happen to them. We pray that we too may be sustained by this hope in the sufferings that we experience for the sake of Christ. We ask that the joy and resurrection power of the Lord will give strength and peace to persecuted believers today and every day. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sun, Apr 2014 00:00

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