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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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  • 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 2 hours ago

  • Give thanks for the Christ-like responses of Christian leaders in CAR to the crisis that threatens them and their churches. They have distanced themselves from the anti-balaka militias, saying that these should not be labelled as Christian and that they hold no mandate from the churches. The leaders have also condemned the violence in the country, whatever its origin, and have called on Christians to pursue forgiveness, reconciliation and healing. Churches are hiding, defending and caring for thousands of Muslims endangered by the anti-balaka, and one of CAR’s most senior church leaders has invited the president of the country’s Islamic community to move into his church compound. Pray that this powerful witness to the grace and love of Christ will help to bring peace to the shattered country. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sat, Apr 2014 00:00

  • On this Good Friday, give thanks to God for the death of Christ and for His gift of eternal life. Praise Him too for the example of those Christians who have persevered in their faith at the risk of their lives and who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. Pray that their martyrdom will inspire their suffering brothers and sisters in Christ to endure whatever hardships befall them and will convince their persecutors of the truth and power of the Gospel. Pray too that their bereaved families and churches will not grieve without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Fri, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Cry out to the Lord for Christians in the Central African Republic (CAR) who have been driven from their homes by the violence that has engulfed their country. Attacks by Islamist Séléka militants and retaliation from “anti-balaka” militias has generated a huge humanitarian crisis in which around two million people, many of them Christians, are in need of emergency assistance. Give thanks for the work of Barnabas partners who have been providing food rations to hundreds of displaced believers in the capital, Bangui, and distributing food, medicines, clothing and seeds to thousands in various regions. Pray that the aid will reach those who need it most, and that the Lord will comfort the relatives and friends of the thousands who have been killed in the fighting. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Thu, Apr 2014 00:00

  • “Jesus Christ performed tremendous miracles in all our lives through this Shalom Camp.” A pastor spoke of how God had worked through a Barnabas-sponsored weekend Bible camp for persecuted Christians in Sri Lanka. The camp was attended by believers from five different churches that had been the target of threats or attacks by Buddhist or Hindu extremists. The participants heard teaching on the Biblical basis for persecution and took part in group discussions; they came away refreshed and encouraged, and for many the camp was a time of great spiritual renewal. Give thanks to the Lord for the peace He has brought to these persecuted believers, and ask that the weekend will continue to bear much fruit in their lives. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Wed, Apr 2014 00:00

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